With Hurricane Lane making landfall in Hawaii this weekend, Verizon and AT&T are putting drones in the sky to deliver cellular and wireless connections to first responders and victims. With damage done to cellular towers, these drones can temporarily restore connections to those affected by natural disasters.

How do these drones work?

Currently, Verizon is in the testing phases with their cellular drones, but claims they will be ready to go this hurricane season. AT&T, on the other hand, has multiple iterations of their cellular drones known as “COW’ or “Cellular on Wings.” Some of their drones use eight motors while others use a single motor resembling a helicopter. Remote radio heads are mounted to the bottom of the aircraft that stay tethered to the ground through a fiber optic cable. This connects to larger units stationed on the ground, so in this case, the drone acts as an antenna that can hover at high altitudes to blast out a signal. In an interview with CNBC, Michael Haberman, Verizon Network’s Vice President stated the following:

“If a site goes down and you have people trapped, they have cell phones but they can’t use them because if there’s a problem with the local tower you can bring this drone in and bring connectivity and we all know how helpful that can be for rescuers.”

Unlike other aircraft, these drones don’t need to be agile or fast. Instead, they need to have long endurance so they can stay in the air for long amounts of time, providing uninterrupted service to dead zones. Check out the video below that CNBC put together with some clips of AT&T and Verizon’s drones in action:

AT&T and Verizon have drones that could provide cell service and save lives this hurricane season from CNBC.

Future applications

These drones will provide invaluable support with future natural disasters down the road and have already proven themselves with the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico. After 90% of their cell towers went down, the FAA granted AT&T the ability to use their drones to temporarily provide connection to those affected.

It’s exciting to see drones being used to deliver cellular and wireless signals to those on the ground, but currently, the technology is in its beginning stages. With drones being tethered to the ground, it creates a lot of possible problems with the main one being portability. These drones have no freedom to fly long distances. With larger, high altitude drones like Airbus’ Zephyr, the internet could one day come from 70,000 feet above our heads. This seems to be a much more promising option than smaller helicopters.

What do you think about AT&T and Verizon’s cellular drones? Let us know in the comments below.

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Photo credit: RCR Wireless

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