T-Mobile applies for extension to test UAS in Washington

T-Mobile COW
A typical COW was deployed for Hurricane Michael relief on Mexico Beach. (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile has filed an application for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to use AWS-3 spectrum for testing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in Bellevue and Redmond, Washington.

The application is actually a request for a six-month extension of an existing STA. “No issues have been reported with the ongoing operations, and no changes to those operations are proposed in this application,” T-Mobile told the FCC.

The paperwork indicates T-Mobile is using network gear from Nokia and Ericsson and handsets from Samsung.

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In its previous application, which expires March 1, T-Mobile explained that it wanted to study the feasibility of using these UAS devices as “flying COWs,” or cells on wings, to restore or provide wireless services where terrestrial cell sites may not be feasible or available. Experimental authorization is required because T-Mobile is not the licensee of the spectrum it’s using. The current application would kick in on March 1 and last until Aug. 31.

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Such systems have been used by other carriers, as T-Mobile noted in its application. AT&T used a flying COW in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and Verizon tested a similar device. T-Mobile said it expects this testing will enable it, like other carriers, to use flying COWs in situations in which additional network capacity is needed.

Wireless operators traditionally have used cell sites on wheels, or COWs, on the ground to supply service during outages or at high-traffic events, but the flying COWs are a newer tool and can be used for tower inspections as well, saving workers from having to travel to areas impacted by floods, for example.