Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and small drones are nowadays being widely used in heterogeneous use cases: aerial photography, precise agriculture, inspections, environmental data collection, search-and-rescue operations, surveillance applications, and more. When designing UAV swarm-based applications, a key "ingredient" to make them effective is the communication system (possible involving multiple protocols) shared by flying drones and terrestrial base stations. When compared to ground communication systems for swarms of terrestrial vehicles, one of the main advantages of UAV-based communications is the presence of direct Line-of-Sight (LOS) links between flying UAVs operating at an altitude of tens of meters, often ensuring direct visibility among themselves and even with some ground Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs). Therefore, the adoption of proper networking strategies for UAV swarms allows users to exchange data at distances (significantly) longer than in ground applications. In this paper, we propose a hybrid communication architecture for UAV swarms, leveraging heterogeneous radio mesh networking based on long-range communication protocols—such as LoRa and LoRaWAN—and IEEE 802.11s protocols. We then discuss its strengths, constraints, viable implementation, and relevant reference use cases.
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