The FAA approved ATT’s “Cell on Wings” drone, we reported on here, for use in Puerto Rico. The drone is a Pulse Vapor 55 that can operate as a flying cell tower and quickly restore cellular phone service in disaster-stricken areas. ATT calls their drone the Flying COW for Cell on Wings. It was developed by ATT to fly up to 200 feet above the ground and can provide voice, data and Internet service for 40 square miles.
DJI Inspire 2
ATT’s COW drone in action
The Flying COW is a Pulse Vapor drone and resembles a small helicopter. The drone is fitted with LTE radios and antennas en is tethered to ground-based electronics and power systems. The unmanned aerial vehicle exceeds the FAA weight limit of 55 Lbs required to operate under the small drone rule. The FAA issued a special exemption and an emergency certificate of authorization for AT&T to fly the drone in Puerto Rico and re-establish service. The drone is a temporary solution while AT&T is rebuilding its network on the island.
AT&T said to NPR that this week marked the first time that a drone with an LTE cell site had been successfully deployed to connect residents after a disaster.
Two months after Hurricane Maria hit the Carribean islands, only 63% of the cell towers are operational. As of last Thursday, 80% of Puerto Rico’s cell phone customers have been connected, according to AT&T.
The COW drone explained
In a video, Art Pregler, AT&T’s director of the company’s drone program, explains that the drone is specifically developed for fast deployment during a disaster recovery scenario. A flying COW can provide cell phone coverage for up to 80,000 people simultaneously. Currently, AT&T only has one flying COW drone but is testing additional model for future use.