FirstNet announced new two new airborne mobile cell site options in December 2019, providing significant enhancements to the FirstNet emergency and disaster response capability. The first system nicknamed the Flying COW, is a drone-based system, the second system mounts the cellular equipment on a blimp. Both systems are managed by the AT&T Network Disaster Response (NDR) team.
The Flying COW drone system provides a rapid, highly mobile response capability. This system is designed for smaller incidents or for deployment in remote or mountainous areas that are often difficult to cover with existing ground-based systems. The drone with its small cell and associated antennas are connected to a ground vehicle with a tether. The tether is a fiber optic cable and power cable which allows the drone unlimited flight time and a highly secure data link. The ground station then uses the satellite to transport the communications.
When airborne the Flying COW can provide LTE coverage for up to 40 square miles. The system can be combined with other Flying COWs to provide an even larger footprint.
The Blimp based system is designed for larger incidents and longer-term deployment. Like the drone, the Blimp is attached to a ground station via a tether providing the communications and power links. The system can fly to 1,000 feet providing two times the coverage of cell sites on wheels or the drone solution. The blimp can stay aloof for up to 2 weeks before it has to be topped up with helium.
FirstNet has over 75 portable assets available 24/7 at no additional charge to FirstNet subscribers for potential use during major incidents.
Learn more about the FirstNet Flying COWs
Learn more about the FirstNet Blimp
Learn more about the FirstNet NDR Team