AT&T is expanding its drone program, using the devices to test its networks in venues like football stadiums in order to improve its distributed antenna system (DAS) networks.
In so doing, it’s also borrowing a page from its self-engineered EchoBOT technology, which involves the deployment of BOTs in a venue to measure the pulse of the network in specific portions of the venue – they’re trying to get a read on how actual users are going to experience the service. Now AT&T has merged its ECHO software so that it’s riding on drones to track in-stadium networks. A YouTube video shows how they used them at the Washington Huskies stadium in Seattle.
“The ‘Echo Drone’ can take key measurements on network performance and feed them in near-real-time to our engineers,” Art Pregler, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Director at AT&T, said in a blog. “It also helps us conduct inspections and tests more quickly and safely. We’re even able to access parts of stadiums that humans can't reach without special equipment.”
The testing process using humans walking around a stadium can take up to five days, but with the Echo Drone, they can whittle the process down to just one day. A BOT can report its findings in real time to the Echo software, which is used by AT&T's engineers to make network adjustments where needed to deliver the best possible customer experience. With EchoBOT, the company is able to record, for example, how long it takes to launch applications, throughput, signal strength and other measurements. This information, carried in real time to the network-operations center, enables tweaks to the systems as necessary.
AT&T is also launching its national drone program this week, officially making use of drones on its network to inspect cell towers, test DAS and more. The move follows months of trials and testing. AT&T doesn’t fly the drones, but instead uses several drone operators across the country that fly their own vehicles.
The AT&T Foundry also this week published a report on “The Future of Drones,” with Ericsson and RocketSpace. They developed what they called "10 Bold Predictions" to showcase how drones might be used to reshape lives. Not all the predictions may become reality and for the ones that do, AT&T might not ultimately play a role in bringing them to market, but AT&T intends to do its part to foster innovation in the drone ecosystem.
Among the predictions: Swarming technology will allow drones to work together; algorithms will fly drones; drones will never have to land and drones will be an extension of ground vehicles or even become vehicles.
The FAA predicts that as early as 2017, 2.5 million drones will be used in the United States.
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