The US operators are leading the field in testing drone-based technologies to improve their networks, whether by installing or inspecting equipment on a tower (AT&T) or using the drones to carry small cells. This is the focus of a new test by Sprint, which has been extending the reach of its 2.5 GHz LTE network using “aerial small cells”.
These devices consist of a Magic Box small cell from Airspan, one of Sprint’s main suppliers in this area, mounted on a drone from CyPhy Works. It can extend the network’s range by up to 10 square miles, Sprint said, following initial tests in Midlothian, Texas, near Dallas.
Like more conventionally mounted Magic Boxes, this one can connect to mobile devices directly, or to a nearby cell site or cell-on-wheels, up to six miles away. It can support both access and backhaul from the same unit. The flying cell/cell-on-wheels combination could be powerful in delivering connectivity to very remote areas, or in the wake of an emergency such as a hurricane, or to support temporary networks at events.