Verizon's efforts to become the first carrier to roll out 5G doesn't mean that they've forgotten about innovating in LTE, which they're proving by starting to test drones that carry LTE network equipment. The drones, shaped like small airplanes, are piloted by American Aerospace Technologies Inc. They carry small cell sites on them and are primarily meant to be used in disaster areas or areas that are without power for any reason. The high-endurance drones are currently in the testing phase; Verizon is nailing down just how wide an area one drone can cover, how long it can stay airborne and keep broadcasting, and how far they can fly.
The latest test took place at New Jersey's Woodbine Municipal Airport, where Verizon employees gave the drone a boost and sent it on its way, with testers on the ground checking on the network metrics as it flew. This is not Verizon's first test of such technology; they have previously done tests in the Cape May area, showing off how the technology can help keep civilians and first responders connected in case of any type of emergency or natural disaster that would normally knock out communications. They will reportedly be having a repeat performance of their test in Cape May as part of an upcoming disaster exercise in May and have already obtained the requisite permits from the county.
Portable cell sites are not a new invention; most US carriers use them as a sort of pop-up network boost for events like state fairs and the Super Bowl when they expect heavy network traffic. These portable cell sites normally find themselves on wheels, or in small pop-up locations, able to be taken apart and transported easily. Verizon is the first to bring one of these portable cell sites airborne, let alone reduce it enough in size to stick it on a drone about the size of a person. Thus far, other carriers have not shown any reported interest in adopting a similar approach and are instead using their own methods for maintaining a network connection during disasters, such as backup generators for regular cell sites or smaller, portable generators.