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Drones flown in to provide communication services to disaster ravaged areas

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Hurricane Lane hit the Hawaiian Islands last week bringing 46 inches of rain, flash floods and mud slides.

In the immediate aftermath of severe natural disasters, along with the loss of essential services such as power, water and sewage there is frequently the problem of people’s phone and internet connections being cut.

Not being able to contact people outside of one’s immediate vicinity makes it next to impossible to talk with family and friends or emergency services.

What Hurricane Lane looked like from space

Verizon and AT&T are both planning to be on hand for this coming hurricane season, providing drones that broadcast communication services such as mobile data. While Verizon is continuing testing, AT&T has several models of cellular drones ready to go which they refer to as COWs (Cellular on Wings).

AT&T’s drones provided support following the devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico in 2017. Following that disaster, nearly half of all the country’s cellphones towers went down.

These UAVs are tethered to the ground to the ground through a fiber optic cable. Remote radio heads are attached to the bottom of the drones which facilitate the provision of data, voice and text services to people. The drone acts as a broadcasting beacon for a station on the ground. When a COW hovers at a height of around 200 feet, it can provide communication services to an area as large as 40 square miles. The drones are capable of staying airborne for hours at a time, allowing stranded people to contact loved ones and perhaps update social media with shocking disaster selfies.

This technology is not dissimilar to plans underway from the likes of Facebook and Google to provide giant drones or balloons flying in the stratosphere that will broadcast free internet to parts of the developing world.

We should look to see more of these type of drones deployed in disaster drones in the future.

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