In the event of a major natural disaster, communication is paramount. In order to be rescued, one needs to be found first. Unfortunately, coming into contact with emergency services is among the hardest thing to do in a situation that requires rescue, and can be physically impossible if powerlines and Wi-Fi are inaccessible.
When precisely this situation happened after Hurricane Rita struck Puerto Rico, AT&T’s Cell on Wings (COW) drones were deployed, providing Puerto Ricans with LTE service despite the devastation. Now, Verizon is joining AT&T in providing cell service via drones in case of such an emergency. Their drones will provide 4G LTE service with a 1-mile radius. South Korea’s TK telecom a 5G LTE airship that can deploy smaller drones is being tested as well. This would cover an even larger area than either Verizon’s or AT&T’s versions.
These are vital developments to keep people connected and, thus, safe during a disaster. As they become more widely available, they can fill in the gaps during even short-term and smaller emergencies. Minutes can make the difference in whether or not someone survives, and with drones providing mobile cellular service, it will be possible to contact the outside world in case of an emergency that somehow took out cell service.
Telecom companies are busy being proactive to keep their clients safe and in contact with whoever they need to reach in case of an emergency. While the use of drones is still in the testing phase, it does not seem far off that they will be among the first responders to disasters.