Where AT&T’s Flying COW Fits



A network bridge

AT&T (T) has come up with a drone capable of providing wireless coverage in underserved regions or places hit by network downtime. It refers to the drone as a “Flying COW” (cell on wings).

Early this year, AT&T carried out the first Flying COW test at a location about an hour outside Atlanta. It said the test was a success and that it would carry out more tests in coming months, with possible deployment, albeit on a private network, later this year.

The Flying COW is designed to be a network bridge that can be deployed to provide wireless network coverage in crucial cases for restoring communications in places hit by natural disasters, such as forest fires, which disrupt the operations of regular cell towers.

Flying COWs can also be deployed to provide extra coverage during popular sporting events or concerts where there is a risk of regular cell towers getting overwhelmed by a surge in traffic demand.

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Trying to stand out from the crowd

When deployed, a single Flying COW can provide coverage to an area of about 40 square miles. Given the stiff competition among wireless carriers, Flying COWs could give AT&T a much-needed competitive edge. For example, AT&T could pitch to customers that its network guarantees coverage even in the most difficult situations.

Though pricing wars have dominated the recent wireless competition, thanks to T-Mobile (TMUS) and Sprint (S), carriers still cite network coverage, availability, and speeds to tout their superiority. Flying COWs could back AT&T’s claims about network strength.

Restrictive drone regulations

But as much as the Flying COW is a promising network bridge, AT&T will have to work hard to deploy it commercially under existing drone regulations. As a matter of fact, e-commerce companies Amazon.com (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) have already felt held back by strict regulations for commercial drone use in the US (SPY).


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