AT&T Provides Cell Service in Puerto Rico via Drone

Telecommunications giant AT&T is providing cell service to 40 square miles of Puerto Rico's territory via drone, connecting many citizens for the first time since Hurricane Maria hit.

AT&T is currently using a drone fitted with LTE to provide up to 40 square miles of Puerto Rico’s territory with cellular service. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September, the island is still suffering terribly. Access to water and food is still limited, and some people have lost everything. For those with shelter and basic safety available, a natural modern urge post-emergency is to call your loved ones and hear their voices—or just to let them know you’re alive. Though there’s still a long way to go toward recovery, AT&T’s LTE-equipped drone may provide some sort of relief to those desperate for connection. 

According to ArsTechnica, 48 percent of cellular sites are still out of commission. AT&T’s drone, Cell on Wings (COW) is an attempt to assuage citizens’ needs for cell phone service. Obviously, the 40 square miles in which users can connect to the drone’s LTE capabilities change as the unmanned aerial vehicle relocates. Currently, COW is hovering above San Juan, with relocations planned soon “to support additional areas, including the military hospital at Manati Coliseum,” said AT&T

Let’s take a look at this functional little drone, shall we?

“As we work to permanently restore our network, this experimental technology is providing data, voice, and text services to customers,” AT&T announced on Monday. “This is the first time an LTE cell site on a drone has been successfully deployed to connect residents after a disaster.”

It is reported that the COW drone hovers at an altitude of 200 feet, and “can extend coverage farther than other temporary sites.” Apparently, the telecommunications giant began using UAVs to inspect cellular towers as early as last year and considers using these kinds of drones at large events in order to strengthen and stabilize local reception. 

AT&T’s COW drone (Cell on Wings), AT&T

A COW drone can connect up to 8,000 people to AT&T’s network simultaneously, and continue hovering for an “extended amount of time,” according to ArsTechnica. However, COW drones aren’t the only thing AT&T is deploying in order to connect consumers in Puerto Rico. The tech giant has partnered with Alphabet to develop a balloon-powered network to bolster cellular service in the area, which you can read about here.