They might not be pigs, but AT&T has made COWs fly.
Seven months after the carrier first announced plans to do so, AT&T on Wednesday said it successfully built and tested a Flying cell-on-wheels, or COW, that can be used to beam LTE coverage where it’s needed during disasters or large events.
AT&T said its Flying COW was made up of a drone carrying a small cell and antennas that was connected to the ground by a thin tether. That tether was used to provide a secure fiber data connection as well as power to the drone for unlimited flight time. The Flying COW uses a satellite connection to carry texts, calls, and data for users in a select area on the ground below.
Here it is in action:
Unlike traditional ground-based COWs, AT&T indicated flying equipment can be easier to deploy in certain circumstances due to its reduced size. The setup flies at altitudes of more than 300 feet – or about 500 percent higher than a traditional COW mast – and has the potential to provide coverage to an area of about 40 square miles. Multiple Flying COWs could be deployed to expand that footprint, the carrier said.
“We see the Flying COW playing an important role within our Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team. We can transport, deploy, and move it quickly to accommodate rapidly changing conditions during an emergency,” AT&T Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Director Art Pregler wrote in a blog post. “For example, at the direction of first responders, it could follow firefighters battling a quickly moving wildfire line—keeping them connected while they fight blazes. The Flying COW is tough. It can fly and provide coverage in bad weather—from high winds to heavy smoke.”
“We’ll also look to use Flying COWs to enhance coverage at big events like music festivals,” Pregler continued. “Used in conjunction with traditional COWs, the Flying COW may allow us to extend coverage to the outlying areas of the festival grounds.”
The use of drones to provide cell coverage is AT&T’s latest employment of unmanned aerial vehicle technology. The carrier has previously announced its work with drones to inspect cell sites and measure network strength in venues. AT&T last year also teamed up with NASA to develop a drone traffic management system.
Filed Under: Infrastructure