Verizon tests 4G LTE coverage drones for extreme weather conditions

When you’re struggling to find a 4G LTE connection after a nasty storm in the future, you might be able to depend on some extra air support for coverage — at least if you’re on Verizon’s network.

The carrier announced it recently tested a drone-based “flying cell-site” system for expanded air network coverage in emergency situations when power grids are knocked out. It’s the second time Verizon has taken to the skies with LTE-enabled drones — last October, the company successfully tested the airborne system in different conditions.          

The flight, which was conducted with support from American Aerospace Technologies, Inc. (AATI), which piloted the 17-foot long endurance drone, took place at Woodbine Municipal Airport in New Jersey. The test site was designed to mimic an emergency scenario in the aftermath of a storm or some other type of natural disaster with a downed power grid and interrupted communications services.

The Verizon-AATI drones are able to fly up to 22,000 feet in high winds for up to 12 to 16 hours at a time. They’re equipped with systems to livestream images to emergency personnel and transmit a 4G LTE signal to the ground using Verizon’s network. 

The are other airborne LTE networks in development, like Google X’s Loon, but that project is meant to provide a more permanent network of coverage to rural and undeveloped regions, not for emergency coverage in the aftermath of a disaster.    

A Verizon rep said the most recent test flight showed progress and built on the success of October’s test flights, but there’s no estimated finish date for the project. The company will conduct more tests on the system, with another New Jersey launch planned for May. 

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