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AT&T: Is It a Bird? A Plane? No, It's a COW!

Dan Jones
9/27/2017

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

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kq4ym
kq4ym
10/9/2017 | 2:35:00 PM
Re: A Thether?
I wonder how high the drone is planned to fly? You could get a temporary tower to get up pretty high and mobile units could be placed at intervals around the area. And what's the advantage of a drone over a tethered balloon?
mendyk
mendyk
9/29/2017 | 12:23:57 PM
Re: Backhaul and power of COW in critical situations?
I remember a sign posted in a Camden Town pub a few years back: "Post a picture of your food on Instagram, win a free concussion!"
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown
9/29/2017 | 12:18:27 PM
Re: Backhaul and power of COW in critical situations?
The pub I was in last night... you order your pint with an iPad. Not going back.

[I've accidently jumped into the COW thread from the Face ID payment thread. Whoops]
mendyk
mendyk
9/29/2017 | 12:08:52 PM
Re: Backhaul and power of COW in critical situations?
You Londoners are so advanced. I always feel like I'm time-traveling to the future and beyond whenever I visit. Back in dirty old-fashioned New York, three or four years ago I went to a cash-free restaurant. That place has been closed for a couple of years now.
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown
9/29/2017 | 11:40:04 AM
Re: Backhaul and power of COW in critical situations?
OK, you didn't quite bite on my Face ID troll ;)

But, I did go into a local bakery today in where they *only* take card or phone payments. No cash accepted. It is slightly irksome in principle, but not in practice. Touch payment is pretty much the default method in London and much of the UK now.
DanJones
DanJones
9/29/2017 | 10:15:11 AM
Re: Backhaul and power of COW in critical situations?
AT&T does in fact say the tether provides power.
Pardelinha
Pardelinha
9/29/2017 | 4:30:13 AM
Re: Backhaul and power of COW in critical situations?
Hi "brooks7", thanks for the answer... that would be also my answer, but if so it will need some truck to transport the generator and satellite communications to the site and so it will be a solution very similar to current "transportable base stations" (which consists on a truck with power generated by itself, with satellite communications for backhaul and with antenna on the top of a lift tower) and basically the difference would be: PRO: the COW solution will not need the lift tower (truck eventually would be a little more expensive) but CON: drones cannot support the more directive antennas that lift towers supports, limiting the coverage and bands supported... my view.
degrasse
degrasse
9/28/2017 | 2:23:48 PM
Re: A Thether?
The tether can also be for power. The drones can stay airborne longer when they are tethered.
degrasse
degrasse
9/28/2017 | 2:22:29 PM
AT&T Flying Cow
I think the Sprint flying small cell is also tethered.
DanJones
DanJones
9/28/2017 | 1:49:41 PM
Re: Goodbye Blue skies !
To be fair, Amazon delivery drones are likely to be much more prevalent.
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