Ma Bell’s Flying Cows
Ma Bell’s Flying Cows
If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you may remember the flying cow carried by a tornado past Dorothy Gale’s window.
An executive at AT&T evidently thought, “We need something like that!” With that in mind, AT&T engineers have developed their own flying COW (cell on wings). The COW is a mobile command and control node for 5G wireless service, carried on a helicopter drone.
Other internet systems have launched drones for wireless service before. AT&T, though, has gone boldly where others haven’t dared: a remote pasture in rural Missouri.
How does this flying COW change everything?
The telecom giant chose the pasture precisely because it’s remote. Before the launch of its COW, AT&T had been getting weak and intermittent LTE signals at the location. The airborne bovine changed everything.
Ethan Hunt, a principal program manager for AT&T’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems, explained. “We flew the drone up to about 300 feet, turned on the signal, and it began transmitting strong 5G coverage to about 10 square miles.” Hunt calls this performance “a game changer”.
This means rural customers with 5G-compatible phones could have received extremely fast signals within seconds after having no wireless service available to them at all.
The telecom will probably devote first use of its flying COW to emergency services. Police, fire, and medical crews could use them for search and rescue missions. Later on, the devices could stream video.
AT&T’s primary goal in launching its COWs, though, is permanent extension of its networks. In the future, flying COWs could fly without tethers for months on end without landing. Powered by solar cells, they could provide 5G connections to large populations of customers dispersed over wide areas.
Of course, battery technology will have to improve dramatically for an untethered drone to operate for such long terms. Current drones can’t stay airborne much longer than an hour.
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