AT&T is again turning to experimental technology to help restore cellular connectivity in Puerto Rico.
The telecom giant previously partnered with Project Loon to deploy the Google affiliate’s balloon-mounted antennas over the storm-ravaged territory, and this week, the company detailed the successful use of a drone-mounted cell site.
The Flying COW — or “cell on wings” — is a small helicopter that lifts an LTE cell site 200 feet above the ground to provide data, voice and text services for up to 40 square miles. AT&T officials said that the system is the first drone-mounted site to restore connections after a disaster.
The company added that the drone could help bolster the FirstNet first responder network in coming years. AT&T is the federal contractor for the system, and state and industry officials have questioned how it plans to maintain wireless connections if infrastructure is damaged by a natural disaster.
“Exploring the capabilities of this technology in wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation will help temporarily restore connectivity and assess how first responders can use the drone in the future,” the company wrote in a blog post.
The hurricane effectively wiped out communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in late September, and most cell sites remained out of commission for weeks afterward. AT&T wrote that as of Monday, nearly 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s population is again connected.
The Flying COW was initially deployed near San Juan but the company expects to move it elsewhere, including the Manati Coliseum’s military hospital, in coming days.
Filed Under: Infrastructure