As a revved-up hurricane season brings misery to Puerto Rico and parts of the US mainland, wildfires continue in the Western States, and many people have a cellphone as their first -- and only -- point of contact, mobile operators are increasingly looking to the skies as a way to provide emergency coverage.
Case in point, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) contacted Light Reading to highlight its own drone-borne small cell program and to say that it will soon field test a "higher capacity helicopter flying COW soon," according to a company spokeswoman. The helicopter will apparently support 4G LTE connections. More details as we get them.
A COW, by the way, is a Cell On Wheels, or should that be a Cell On Wings?
AT&T has been testing the "Flying COW" on drones in "a field in Atlanta" since February 2017. Unlike Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s newly unveiled flying "Magic Box" small cell, which has a wireless connection to both backhaul and people on the ground, the airborne COW is connected to the ground via a thin tether. (See Sprint's 'Magic' Small Cell Takes to the Air.)
"The tether between the drone and the ground provides a highly secure data connection via fiber and supplies power to the Flying COW, which allows for unlimited flight time," AT&T says. "The Flying COW then uses satellite to transport texts, calls, and data."
These are two similar, yet different, approaches to providing temporary 4G LTE coverage from the air. Questions about range (for AT&T) and flight time (for Sprint) remain, but Light Reading hopes to have more answers soon.
Of course, all of this is no help to the citizens of Puerto Rico right now, as these airborne cells are still being tested. Still, in the future, a flying COW might be able to provide a modicum of comfort to victims of natural and manmade disasters.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading