Verizon, AT&T deploy drones to check towers in areas hit by Harvey

drone hurricane (AT&T)
AT&T said it was deploying a fleet of 25 drones to areas in Southeast Texas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (AT&T)

Verizon and AT&T are using drones to help in recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

As weather cleared to make it possible, Verizon began using drones to inspect its towers. Drones are safer to use and faster than sending a tower climbing crew, and it allows access to sites that are inaccessible due to flooding, a spokesperson said.

When they do the inspections, they look for things like cracked antennas, frayed coax cable or other issues that could cause problems or result in service interruptions. Talon Data Systems and Measure are assisting Verizon in its efforts. It wasn’t immediately known how many drones Verizon was using as conditions were in flux.

AT&T reported that it deployed a fleet of 25 drones to areas in Southeast Texas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. It’s also using drones to inspect cell towers to determine the hurricane's impact on its network.  

“Drones can take HD video and photos of a cell site, giving us a birds’ eye view of the tower,” AT&T said in a blog post. “This offers high-quality visuals of equipment, components and cabling so our engineers can remotely view cell sites safely from the ground—all in real time.”

Verizon conducted an emergency preparedness demo in Perry, Georgia, earlier this year with more than 20 of its technology partners to showcase what they can do for first responders in all sorts of potential real-life situations. The event brought together a slew of companies as well as first responders, state and local government officials and business leaders.  

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In February, Verizon acquired Skyward, a drone operations software company based in Portland, Oregon. Skyward is now part of the company’s Telematics division, alongside the likes of Fleetmatics and Telogis.

But both Verizon and AT&T are relying on some more old-fashioned gear as they participate in Harvey relief efforts.

AT&T also planned to deploy two Satellite Cell on Wheels (Sat COLTs) in Beaumont, Texas, and stage 12 more in the area to support customers and first responders following the second landfall of Tropical Storm Harvey.

Verizon was also deploying gear that includes Cells on Wheels (COWs) and Cells on Light Trucks (COLTS) to supplement service in areas of South Texas that need extra network capacity, and it was staffing shelters with Verizon employees in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio to assist first responders and displaced residents with mobile charging, internet access and other communications needs.

Editor's Note: Updated Sept. 6 to describe Skyward as a drone operations software company.