Drones Taking Our Network to New Heights

July 13, 2016
By John Donovan


Imagine you’re at a concert watching your favorite band, and out of the corner of your eye you notice a tethered drone hovering nearby.  

But this drone isn’t taking photos or videos of the band.  It's temporarily providing enhanced LTE wireless coverage at the packed venue so you, along with thousands of others in attendance, can simultaneously send photos and videos to share the moment.

While this isn’t a reality yet, we expect many different drone uses in the future. That’s why for the past year we’ve been exploring and testing different ways drones can benefit our customers.

This week, we reached another milestone by launching the trial phase of our national drone program.

Led by Art Pregler, our national drone program is driving innovation, and focuses on how AT&T and our customers can benefit from drone-based solutions.

Art's team brings decades of military, flight control and tech experience to the job.  This has allowed the team to hit the air flying, so to speak.  We're already using drones to perform aerial inspections of our cell towers, and this week at our SHAPE Conference in San Francisco, we'll demonstrate that capability live.

Connecting drones to our nationwide LTE network lets us capture data and feed it directly to our systems.  In turn, this can allow us to make changes to our network in real time.  

By using drones to inspect a cell site, we’re able to conduct inspections more quickly and safely – and even access parts of a tower that a human simply could not.  We anticipate this will allow us to improve our customers’ experience by enhancing our cell sites faster than ever before.

We expect our experiences will lay the foundation for new, exciting drone applications.

Possible uses include Flying COWs (Cell on Wings) providing LTE coverage at large events or even rapid disaster response.  A Flying COW may even be able to provide coverage when a vehicle is unable to drive to a designated area.

In addition to how we’re using drones to enhance our network, AT&T’s IoT team, led by Chris Penrose, is developing solutions for our customers.  We’re researching how in-flight drones can use our LTE network to send large amounts of data in real-time. This capability may benefit areas such as insurance, farming, facility and asset inspections, and even delivery service companies.

We're moving toward the future by pushing the envelope on what’s technologically possible for drones.  Look for more news from us at SHAPE, including a first-hand look at how drones are taking our network to new heights.

 Chief Strategy Officer and Group President – AT&T Technology and Operations

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