AT&T says that in April it tested a drone-based 5G cell site over a remote rural field in Missouri.
The device is known as a flying cell on wings, or Flying COW. Drones commonly are used to provide supplemental connectivity during emergencies or large gatherings such as sporting events.
Drones can be used for 5G command and control or video streaming. Use of Flying COWs as 5G cell sites would be a new use of drones, AT&T says.
This will provide the carrier with another strategy for reaching isolated and rural populations. The flight location only had an “intermittent, weak LTE signal,” according to Ethan Hunt, AT&T’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Principal Program Manager. In the test, the Flying COW flew as high as 300 feet and transmitted what Hunt said was a strong 5G signal that covered approximately 10 square miles.
AT&T has been enthusiastic about drones for several years.
“We are currently working through many exciting technical challenges to expand the capabilities of our Flying COWs,” Art Pregler, AT&T’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Director, said in a press release about the drone-based cell site. “We’re working to autonomously fly without tethers for months without landing, using solar power to provide secure, reliable, and fast 5G connectivity to large numbers of users over wide geographic areas. This solution may one day help bring broadband connectivity to rural and other underserved communities across the U.S. and elsewhere.”
The carrier pointed to two other drone projects:
- Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight operations aims to enable drones to be piloted from remote locations.
- RoboDogs aims to enable drones to be used in inaccessible or high risk scenarios such as search and rescue and bomb disablement.
The Flying COW was created in association with FirstNet, the public-private partnership first responders’ network headed up by AT&T. In 2018, AT&T said that Flying COWs are ruggedized for extreme environments and can “see” through smoke, treetops and other obstacles.