A month after experiencing catastrophic devastation due to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover. With 48 percent of cell sites still out of service, residents and officials struggle to communicate across the island. To help get customers connected again, AT&T deployed its Flying Cell on Wings (COW) for the first time.

The Flying COW is an LTE-connected done that provides data, voice, and text services to customers while AT&T works to restore its network. The drone, which flies at 200 feet above ground, can provide wireless connectivity in an up to 40-square-mile area. Compared to other temporary cell sites, Flying COW has a larger coverage range and is better suited for remote areas, according to AT&T.

In terms of how it works, the drone carries a small cell and antennas and is connected to the ground via a thin tether. The tether provides a secure data connection via fiber and supplies power to the drone. This gives the drone essentially unlimited flight time.

The drone’s tether is visible midflight. (Photos: AT&T)

In a blog post, AT&T noted that the LTE-connected drones hold potential applications for FirstNet subscribers.

“Exploring the capabilities of this technology in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation will help temporarily restore connectivity and assess how first responders can use the drone in the future,” AT&T said in a blog post.

The drone is deployed in the San Juan area, but AT&T plans to move the drone around the island to support additional areas, including the military hospital at Manati Coliseum. In addition to the drone, AT&T is placing portable satellite units at the bases of cell towers in areas where cell services are not yet restored.

The Flying COW was originally introduced by AT&T in February 2017, when its drone team announced the first successful live flight of an LTE-connected drone.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs