Imagine that you are stuck under debris following an earthquake and are wondering why your phone is not getting any signal and no one is coming to your rescue. The most likely reason is that your nearest cell tower is damaged or has lost power.
What if a drone could bring you the necessary cellular service, courtesy of a mobile cellular base station so that you can make a phone call successfully? That is what a research project at the University of North Texas has demonstrated in a first-of-its-kind field test.
“The system we developed at UNT through public, private, and government partnerships, is a deployable communication system,” Kamesh Namuduri, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, told Digital Trends. “It is a flying cell tower, meaning a drone carrying the cellular base station as a payload. The system is portable enough to be carried by a drone and flown to any location, and then providing cellular service the instant it is deployed.”
In the team’s demonstration, the communications device was attached to a drone and launched 400 feet in the air. With just 250 milli-watt transmit power, it was capable of providing cellular coverage up to two kilometers. Scaled up to a 10 watt transmit power, the researchers claim it could provide cellular coverage to a city with a population of more than 100,000.
“What we demonstrated is just the beginning,” Namuduri continued. “The technology needs to mature before it can be rolled out in the real world. For example, small drones cannot fly longer than an hour without battery replacement, while larger drones are too expensive. The communication systems needs to be more efficient so that the quality of service is reliable and dependable enough to carry out relief operations. We also need to develop IoT services around the technology to enable the first responders to share situational awareness information among themselves.”