Verizon Tests Drone LTE Network in Emergency Drill

CAPE MAY, N.J.and AUSTIN, TEXAS—Verizon said it tried out drone-based 4G LTE in its first-ever emergency management and disaster recovery exercise, plus it scoped out a venue and did a few tower inspections with unmanned aircraft. With regard to the emergency-management test in Cape May, the carrier described it as a “successful test [proving] that 4G LTE coverage can be provided from an aircraft to first responders in the event no traditional service is available.”

“Today’s test is the first time we’re flying airborne LTE on an unmanned aircraft system and provide high-bandwidth communications in a communications-denied environment,” said David Yoel, CEO of American Aerospace Technologies, which is helping the carrier to test its Airborne LTE Operations initiative, announced in early October. “As the aircraft’s flying along, it’s streaming imagery to the web... we built up a map in near real-time, so that emergency responders know what the condition of roadways infrastructure are, and they know where to respond, and how they can get there.”

A spokeswoman for Verizon said the carrier conducted “multiple flights over several days that were a few hours each day,” and that the “aircraft stayed connected to Verizon’s core network at all times.”

Dave McCarley, Verizon Network Technology Fellow, said the drone was “connected wirelessly to our network, to the Verizon core, so instead of the cell site being planted in the ground, we’ve lifted that equipment up and into the belly of this very small aircraft, and provide coverage where it might not otherwise be,” Dave McCarley, Verizon Network Technology Fellow.

The Cape May tests, conducted Oct. 5-7, used a 17-foot wingspan RS-20 drone owned and operated by American Aerospace Technologies, Inc., with pilots controlling it from the ground. While the RS-20 is capable of reaching up to 22,0000 feet, the Federal Aviation Administration was said to have authorized flight up to 7,500 feet, but the aircraft was tested on Verizon's network at 3,000 feet and below. Weighing in at 165 pounds, the flight time of the RS-20 is said to be 12-16 hours.

Additionally, Verizon said it used smaller drones to conduct cell site inspections in the Carolinas after Hurricane Matthew, using the aerial footage to rapidly asses damage to cell sites that were otherwise inaccessible by land due to flood waters.

Verizon also did itsfirst drone venue inspectionat the Circuit of the America’s racetrack in Austin, to measure network coverage in advance of a major event Oct. 21-23. The drone, operated by D.C. drone-provider Measure, carried two smartphones to test the 4G LTE network and record data. The drones were able to fly over a large concert area, rows of bleachers and spectator areas still under construction. The drone-based testing took approximately half the time it would take to walk the venue, Verizon said.

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