AT&T’s Use Of Drone To Offer Cellular Service In Puerto Rico Approved

Telecommunications giant AT&T has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy a drone referred to as Cell on Wings or Flying Cow in Puerto Rico with a view to restoring cellular service following devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. According to the Federal Aviation Administration drone Pulse Vapor 55 works in a similar manner to a cell tower offering internet, data and voice services with the only major difference being that it is suspended in the sky.

The drone covers an area measuring 40 square miles and can fly to a height of 200 feet above ground. Since Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory two months ago, Puerto Rico has been struggling to regain full use of communications service. By late last week 39% of cell sites were still not in service according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Antennas and LTE radios

On the surface Pulse Vapor 55 looks like a small chopper. According to the Federal Aviation Administration the drone is tethered to power and electronic systems that are ground-based. Additionally it is fitted with antennas and LTE radios.

With the drone exceeding a weight limit of 55 pounds that the government has imposed, an exemption was needed to be made by the Federal Aviation Administration. The Dallas, Texas-based telecommunications will only use the drone cell service temporarily though as work on rebuilding the permanent infrastructure continues.

This is not the first experimental communications solution being deployed in Puerto Rico. Last month communication balloons offered by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, in conjunction with carrier networks commenced operations in the U.S. territory. According to Alphabet the communications balloon project known as ‘Project Loon’ had provided basic internet access to over 1000,000 people in Puerto Rico since its launch.

Emergency cellular services

Alphabet was allowed by the Federal Communications Commission to use balloons numbering up to 30 in providing emergency cellular services to residents of Puerto Rico. At the time Google’s parent company indicated that it didn’t expect to use its full allocation since one balloon possessed the capacity to offer internet connectivity to an area measuring approximately 1,930 square miles or 5,000 square kilometers. Puerto Rico sits on an area measuring 3,515 square miles.

This comes in the wake of reports indicating that AT&T will be taken to court by the antitrust chief at the U.S. Department of Justice, Makan Delrahim, over the telecommunication giant’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner.

“Vigorous antitrust enforcement plays an important role in building a less-regulated economy in which innovation and business can thrive, and American consumers can benefit,” said Delrahim.