IEEE International Symposium on Personal, Indoor and Mobile Radio Communications
13–16 September 2021 // Virtual Conference // By 6G Flagship

Role of Flying Platforms for Global Connectivity


Dr. Muhammad Zeeshan Shakir,
University of the West of Scotland, UK

Muhammad Zeeshan Shakir (S’04–M’10–SM’16) is Reader (Associate Professor) at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), UK, received over £2m research funding from bodies such as Innovate UK, ERASMUS, QNRF (6G project) and UK industries. With over 15 years of research expertise in design and development of information and communication technologies (ICT), he has published over 120 research articles and edited or contributed to 10 books. He has an interest in wireless technologies and application of tools such as Artificial Intelligent & machine learning to support global connectivity around the world. He is a recipient of STARS (Staff Appreciation and Recognition Scheme) Award 2020 & 2018 for Outstanding Research and Enterprise performance at UWS. He is a Fellow of Higher Education Academy, UK and member of International Association of Smart Learning Environments (IASLE). Recently, he has been selected (through a competitive process) by the Scottish Parliament as a Member Scottish Parliament Framework Agreement Covid-19 Pandemic to provide expert advice on the impact of Covid-19 on digital infrastructure. He has been awarded with the Best Journal article award 2019 jointly presented by IEEE Communications Society and China Institute of Communications for research on millimetre wave communications for 5G. He has been/is serving as a Chair and organising committee of several symposiums/workshops in IEEE flagship conferences, including Globecom, ICC and WCNC. He is an Editor of PHYCOM, IEEE Communications Letters and served as a guest editor to IEEE Wireless Communications, IEEE Communications, and IEEE Access. He is a founding Chair of IEEE ComSoc emerging technologies committee on backhaul/fronthaul. He is a Fellow of Higher Education Academy, UK, Senior Member of IEEE, and an active member of IEEE ComSoc.


Driven by an emerging use of flying platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones and unmanned balloons in future network applications and the challenges that the 6G networks exhibit, the focus of this tutorial is to demonstrate the evolution of the flying platforms as a novel architectural enabler for radio access network (RAN) and their integration with the future cellular access and backhaul/fronthaul networks. These platforms are networked, flying and a potential way to offer high data rate, high reliability and ultra-low latent access and backhaul/fronthaul to future wireless networks. Such large scale deployable flying platforms and frameworks will guarantee the global information and communication requirements as articulated in United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for future smart and resilient cities and solve the ubiquitous and global connectivity problems in many challenging network environments, e.g., coverage or capacity enhancements for remote or sparsely populated areas, social gathering, and disaster affected scenarios, etc. This tutorial will provide balanced coverage on recent trends, challenges and future research and development on the integration of flying platforms with the future wireless networks. Specifically, this tutorial will provide answers for the following:

  • How flying platforms can be used for autonomous coverage hole discovery as an alternate to the minimization drive test by using machine learning to offer a reliable and scalable solution to enhance the coverage and capacity of the access networks (flying platform placement and user association problems)?
  • How flying platforms can be used to fronthaul the small cell deployment to the core network and offer a flexible and resilient wireless backhaul solution (flying platform deployment architecture, potential high data rate technologies, e.g., free space optics (FSO) and flying platform-small cell association problem)?
  • What are the economic, regulatory, and industrial perspectives of deploying flying platforms for cellular access and backhaul networks (total cost of operation, automation, and some latest regulations)?

Structure and content

The proposed content of the tutorial is explained as follows:

1. Moving toward beyond 6G networks (15 min)

1.1. Motivation of Ultra-dense small cell networks in the light of history: From Nikola Tesla’s vision till today and beyond 5G including 6G use cases and projections

1.2. A road map to beyond 6G networks covering technologies and tools for improving spectral efficiency, spectrum efficiency and network densification and role of Machine learning and AI

1.3. Beyond 5G Perspectives and road map for resilience and reliable wireless communications for global connectivity – United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) covering use of 5G tech for Pandemic and universal access to information and communication

2. Flying Platforms for 6G: Overview (30 min)

2.1. Introduction to flying platforms covering emerging roles, fundamentals, and limitations for 6G communications

2.2. Introduction to Airborne Self organizing networks (SON) architecture – layered flying platforms architecture and functionalities of each layer / role of flying platforms at each layer

2.3. Classification of flying platforms based on constraints such as battery, payload, endurance, and cost etc. for each layer in a layered architecture

2.4. Overview of the 6G use cases including provision of fronthaul/backhaul, relaying and access networks in airborne networks using Tethered/Untethered flying platforms

3. Coverage hole discovery – Industrial Use case (45 min)

3.1. Overview of limitation use cases for minimisation drive test in current cellular network, e.g., outdated reports; poor coverage, indoor settings

3.2. Ground-breaking discover coverage hole discovery algorithm by using machine learning for autonomous operation of flying platforms as flying base stations; comparison with other approaches by Ericsson trials and Qualcomm trials; Live demo of not-spot detection using drone-based machine learning

3.3. ITU regulations related to drone commercial user and deployments as base station and limitations, covering recent discussions with space agencies and national space traffic operators.

3.4. General challenges including safety and security; costing; test-beds developments; and weather conditions

4. Flying platforms for Access Networks (45 min)

4.1. Motivation to deploy flying platforms as base stations and improve network densification covering requirements and challenges in access networks such as backhaul for these flying base stations

4.2. Flying base stations deployment models covering Air to Ground channel modelling (user association), and Air to cellular channel mode for wireless backhaul

4.3. Backhaul/fronthaul aware 3D flying base stations placement problem formulation and performance evaluation of optimisation algorithms in terms of data rate, coverage probability and capacity

4.4. Integration of D2D into airborne network for extending the coverage including mode selection and performance evaluation

5. Flying Platforms for fronthaul/backhaul (30 min)

5.1. Overview of ultra-dense small cell network deployment, challenges and requirements such as provision of wireless fronthaul, interference management, capacity and coverage

5.2. Comprehensive coverage and comparison of wireless backhaul/fronthaul technologies for small cells covering tradi- tional non-line-of-sight (NLoS) solution, fiber, mm-wave, FSO and hybrid RF/mmWave/FSO

5.3. Vertical fronthaul design using flying platforms; FSO and performance evaluation including link margin analysis, achievable data rate and deployment scenarios and total cost of ownership (TCO) comparison

5.4. Flying platform-Small cell association problem covering central and distributed approaches for optimisation of small cell association and performance evaluation

6. Conclusions (15 min)