Following tech giants such as Facebook, and Google, Verizon is taking to the skies in an attempt to create unmanned “flying cell phone towers” to patch up areas in the sky where cell reception is lacking. While its long term dream is to create a steady 4G LTE network across every part of the country, its immediate goal is to increase the range for first responders and emergency crews to pick up signals of people lost in the middle of nowhere. Verizon has named their experimental aircraft beacon ALO (Airborne LTE Operations), and they have been working on the project for around 2 years now.
The Company has been working on creating a flying network of these drones to cover vast areas of the American wilderness, and current plans show them daisy chaining coverage, and beaming them down selectively to many unconnected areas, and to pick up the signal of people who may need emergency help immediately. Their drones operate similar to how Facebooks’ Aquila drones operate, except they promise smaller, more affordable and more reliable coverage.
To create the drones, Verizon teamed up with American Aerospace Technologies to see how the ability to get a portable cell tower up and running within minutes could help in certain disaster scenarios. The first test involved a 17.6 foot wingspan ALO glider, with its own onboard Autonomous navigation and flight controls. The drone would connect with a satellite uplink, and transmit all the information between the ground controller and the satellite via high speed “digital highways”. The test proved successful, but the lifespan of the drone was rather lacking, averaging at just over 2 hours per charge. Verizon plan to increase this, whilst also increasing the data transfer rate, to ensure that the signal strength is very strong, even when the drone might not be very close to the ground operator.