From cellphone to cell-drone: Verizon, AT&T networks take flight

From cellphone to cell-drone: Verizon, AT&T networks take flight

NEWSBYTE With hurricane season fast approaching in the US, having access to smart- or mobile phone services following a disaster could mean the difference between life and death, for both citizens and first responders.

According to a report by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US, 90 percent of all cellphone stations and masts in Puerto Rico were knocked out after Hurricane Maria hit the region in September last year, leaving millions of people without communications. In November, nearly 48 percent of all connections were still down.

Verizon and AT&T are two telecoms providers developing the concept of ‘cell-drones as service’, with the aim of getting temporary cell coverage into the sky after natural disasters, opening their networks to all users.

Shortly after Hurricane Maria, the FCC granted AT&T permission to use its Cell On Wings (aka Flying COW) drones to restore cellular service to the area.

Last year, each Flying COW provided wireless connectivity to customers across an area of up to 40-square miles, flying 200 feet above the ground and extending coverage further than other temporary cell installations.

“We would provide our Flying COW to the first responders, to, say the fire department, and we would pilot it for them,” said AT&T drone programme director, Art Pregler. “All it takes is for them to place a phone call, email, or contact us and we’ll provide that service.”

AT&T also offers land-based COWs: in this case, cell on wheels technology.

Verizon has now added its weight to the concept, with the testing of a new 200-pound fuelled drone in Cape May County, New Jersey. As with AT&T’s Flying COWs, Verizon’s drones act as airborne cell sites, with each providing a 4G LTE signal over a one-mile range.

“The ability to bring coverage to an area that had none really quickly is something that emergency responders are all over,” said Verizon network VP, Michael Haberman.

The Verizon drones will be available to use in the case of a natural disaster later this year, he added.

Internet of Business says

A transformative interim solution for communities that find themselves cut off from the world in the wake of natural or other disasters.

Meanwhile, drones are saving lives in other ways, as our recent reports on drones in search and rescue, and in delivering blood and essential medicines have revealed.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.