The FAA has approved the use of AT&T's “Flying COW” drone to restore cellular service in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The FAA has given fast-track approval for what it calls the first unmanned aircraft operation of its kind to help restore cellular service in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The service is based on the “Flying COW” (Cell on Wings) drone developed by AT&T to beam LTE coverage from the sky to customers on the ground during disasters or big events.
The drone functions like a cell tower in the sky, restoring voice, data and internet service. It flies up to 200 feet above the ground, covering an area of 40 square miles.
The drone carries a small cell and antennas and is connected to the ground by a thin tether. The tether provides a highly secure data connection via fiber and supplies power to the Flying COW, which allows for unlimited flight time. The Flying COW then uses satellite to transport texts, calls, and data.
Because the aircraft exceeded the 55lb. weight limit required to operate under the FAA's small drone rule, the agency had to issue a special exemption and an emergency certificate of authorization for AT&T to conduct its mission.
The company is using the drone as a temporary cell service solution while it rebuilds the permanent infrastructure on the island.