AT&T’s Flying COW® Drones: The Cellular 5G Hotspot

AT&T Advances 5G Coverage with Flying COW Drones

by DRONELIFE Staff Writer Ian M. Crosby

This past April, the AT&T drone team took to a field in rural Missouri to test its new Flying COW® (Cell on Wings), marking the first time AT&T has transmitted its 5G network from a drone.

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“We had intermittent, weak LTE signal at the flight location before we launched the 5G Flying COW,” said Ethan Hunt, UAS Principal Program Manager at AT&T. “We flew the drone up to about 300 feet, turned on the signal and it began transmitting strong 5G coverage to approximately 10 square miles.”

This would allow customers with 5G compatible devices in the area to go from no service to super-fast wireless connections in a matter of seconds, with potential use cases such as assisting first responders in search and rescue missions.

“Drones may use 5G for command and control or to stream video, but the AT&T 5G Flying COW is the only drone that provides a 5G network,” added Hunt.

While AT&T has been using its Cell on Wings technology for years to transmit LTE coverage during big events and disasters, the new 5G Flying COW® could prove to be crucial in providing better network performance and an improved experience.

“Our focus within the drone world is connectivity. All of our drone solutions have that focus,” said AT&T’s UAS Program Director Art Pgler. “5G brings a lot of new capability to the table. We can connect a larger number of devices with 5G. When we put that up, we can share with a larger population. It’s enabling a lot more solutions, including human-to-machine interface that are now capable that wasn’t previously possible.”

“We are currently working through many exciting technical challenges to expand the capabilities of our Flying COWs®,” said Pregler. “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 US and elsewhere.”

The AT&T drone team is also testing Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations, enabling the pilot to operate a drone from a completely different location. The current flight control system allows tethered Flying COWs® to be separated by thousands of miles, essentially operating BVLOS already. However, the team is currently working on launching untethered Flying COWs® to provide 5G connectivity at BVLOS locations.

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Ian attended Dominican University of California, where he received a BA in English in 2019. With a lifelong passion for writing and storytelling and a keen interest in technology, he is now contributing to DroneLife as a staff writer.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

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