Meet AT&T’s new drone Flying COW, which is helping to provide temporary connectivity to people in Puerto Rico. AT&T’s new drone the Flying COW (Photo from AT&T)


It’s always heartening when major events spur innovation. Or maybe it’s how rapidly that innovation gets to where it needs to be. I’m glad so many are helping, Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get. (Here is another such innovation)


Hurricane Maria is one of the most devastating hurricanes Puerto Rico has experienced. Months after the disaster, much of the country is still left in the dark without electricity or communications. Companies have been doing their part to provide temporary service to the country, like Project Loon. Now, AT&T is getting on board with their new effort to provide communications via its Flying COW (Cell on Wings).


The Flying Cow is a small helicopter that provides wireless connectivity to people in a 40 square mile area. Flying 200 feet above the ground, it can extend its coverage farther than other temporary cell sites. According to AT&T, this is the first time a device such as this has been successfully deployed. One of these devices can provide coverage to up to 8000 people at the same time. This factor depends on the equipment and the stability of the network.


Right now the drone is flying around the San Juan area. The company has plans to relocate the drone to other areas that need support in the coming days, including the military hospital at Manati Coliseum. In the meantime, the company is also hard at work at permanently restoring their network along with providing additional assets in other impacted areas.  They report that roughly 70% of the population in Puerto Rico and nearly 95% in the US Virgin Islands are now connected.


AT&T is already thinking about how the Flying COW can go beyond this devastating event. They believe that LTE-connected drones could be very useful for FirstNet-subscribers. They plan to explore how else this technology can be used and how first responders can use the drone in the future. There’s only one Flying COW in operation right now, but there are plans to add more drone models to the fleet.


This is only one of the temporary solutions AT&T is offering to help restore Puerto Rico. They’re also using portable satellite units that sit at the base of cell towers in areas where fiber lines connected to the towers haven’t been repaired. They also collaborated with Alphabet for a balloon-powered network that provides emergency cell service to the country.


With so many companies doing their part to help restore power and provide temporary solutions for Puerto Rico, hopefully, the country will be back on its feet soon.




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