Verizon has been testing a 200-pound gas-powered drone in Cape May County, New Jersey. The drone acts as a flying cell site and provides a 4G LTE signal throughout a one mile range.
"The ability to bring coverage to an area that had no coverage really quickly is something that emergency responders are all over, " says Verizon Network Vice President Michael Haberman.
"Could you imagine if you'd be able to bring drones through an area, and you can cover a mile, which is a pretty big area, and all of the sudden the user, who most have smartphones, can actually use their smartphone product and call for help and help us identify where they are."
According to a report by the FCC, 90 percent of the cell sites in Puerto Rico were down after Hurricane Maria hit the region last year. Shortly after, the FCC granted AT&T permission to use its Cell On Wings (COW) drone to restore cellular service to the area. At that time, AT&T opened cellphone access to everyone, not just customers, so that anyone in the area could get service. AT&T says its operational model is build around drones as a service.
"We would provide our flying COW to the first responders, to, say the fire department, and we would pilot it for them," says AT&T Drone Program Director, Art Pregler. "So all it takes is for them to place a phone call, email, contact us and we'll provide that service."
Verizon's drones are still in the testing phase, but Haberman says they will be available to use in the case of a natural disaster this year.