AT&T introduces 5G Flying COWs (Cell on Wings) drones

AT&T has announced it is introducing a drone-based 5G network.  The drones, named 5G Flying COWs (Cell on Wings), are the first of their kind to provide 5G network speeds, although similar technology has been used for years to provide LTE coverage.

According to Ethan Hunt, AT&T Unmanned Aircraft Systems principal program manager, the Flying Cows can transmit strong coverage up to approximately 10 sq miles (16 sq km).

“We had intermittent, weak LTE signal at the flight location before we launched the 5G Flying COW,” he said of the test flight in Missouri that happened in April.

Image Credit:  AT&T

In other words, those in the area attempting to stream video could have found they suddenly had access to 5G speeds where they previously did not.

That means, customers with a capable 5G phone in the area could have gone from no service to super-fast wireless connections in seconds. In the future, this could help first responders in a search and rescue mission.

“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,” Ethan said.

Getting 5G into remote areas is notoriously difficult. Dependent on very densely deployed small cells, 5G coverage outside towns is expensive; infrastructure needs are immense and its reach is limited to devices in close proximity of towers. Flying COWs could provide a solution to this issue, and could also be a huge help to first responders in search and rescue missions.

AT&T has been using this technology for years to provide LTE coverage to customers during big events, such as this year’s Super Bowl and disasters. While other companies may use 5G signals to communicate with drones, the Flying COW will act as a cell site actually located on a drone.

Art Pregler, Unmanned Aircraft Systems program director at AT&T, said of the project: “We are currently working through many exciting technical challenges to expand the capabilities of our Flying COWs. 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.”

“Our focus within the drone world is connectivity. All of our drone solutions have that focus,” said Art  “5G brings a lot of new capability to the table. We can connect a lot larger number of devices with 5G. When we put that up, we can share with a larger population.”

That, in turn, can lead to a more seamless experience, better network performance and an overall better experience.   “It’s enabling a lot more solutions, including human-to-machine interface that are now capable that wasn’t previously possible,” Pregler said.

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This launch is just one of several ground-breaking AT&T drone projects in the works right now.

  • Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight operations, GEOCAST air operations
    • The Drone team is testing BVLOS – which would allow the pilot to operate a drone from a completely different location. We currently have an AT&T-patented flight control system that allows our operators and our tethered Flying COWs® to be separated by thousands of miles.  In this sense, we can already operate our tethered Flying COWs® BVLOS.  We are also working on a next phase to launch untethered Flying COWs® from the operator’s location to fly many miles away to provide 5G connectivity at BVLOS locations.
  • RoboDogs
    • We are building a litter of “RoboDogs” that can be used for a number of situations, from search and rescue to bomb disablement. Our teams are constantly working to improve connectivity for these devices, including outfitting them with 5G technology.

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References:

https://about.att.com/story/2022/5G-drone-program.html

https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/news/att-introduces-drone-transmitted-5g-network/

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One thought on “AT&T introduces 5G Flying COWs (Cell on Wings) drones

  1. Well, that makes sense! I wonder if AT&T is using Spooky Action’s flying COW, which was showcased at CES-2022? Here is my interview with the founder of Spooky Action, where he makes a compelling case for tethered drones as temporary cell towers.

    https://www.viodi.tv/2022/04/22/the-fungible-cell-tower-ces2022/

    Of course, for COW’s to be competitive with a permanent cell tower, it will probably require some sort of automated supervision. Otherwise, the cost of labor might be too difficult to justify under current Part 107 FAA rules of one pilot per drone (granted, if you could have one person remotely monitoring multiple flying COWs, it might start to make economic sense).

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