AT&T launches trial of LTE-connected drones

AT&T (NYSE: T) hopes to use LTE-connected drones to enhance its wireless network and inspect cell towers.

The carrier announced the launch of a national trial of "Flying COWs" – or Cells on Wings – to provide LTE coverage at large events or during disasters. The project is being overseen by Art Pregler, who serves as AT&T's director of National Mobility Systems and who began his tech career in the U.S. Air Force.

The nation's second-largest carrier is already using drones to perform aerial inspections of its tower in a move that could improve safety and efficiency, and AT&T said perhaps they could enable access to parts of towers that field workers simply can't reach.

"Connecting drones to our nationwide LTE network lets us capture data and feed it directly to our systems," wrote John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of technology and operations for AT&T. "In turn, this can allow us to make changes to our network in real time."

Drones could be used to provide coverage even to areas that are inaccessible to vehicles. And AT&T's IoT team is researching how drones could send large amounts of data in real time via LTE, potentially serving businesses in markets including insurance, farming, facility and asset inspections, and transport.

While AT&T's strategy may sound novel, it isn't the first time a wireless company has expressed interest in using drones. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) recently requested permission from the FCC to conduct tests using three commercial smartphones attached to a drone at the Kansas City Speedway for a three-month period, although it's unclear whether that request was approved. And Ericsson demonstrated a cellular-connected drone during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year.

For more:
- see this AT&T blog post

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