iPhone-controlled drones have become popular lately for capturing stunning video like Apple’s Campus 2 in addition to offering pure recreational fun, and AT&T has a vision for how drones could go further and actually improve the LTE connection to your iPhone.

While detailing how the network is already using drones in the field, AT&T imagines a future where drones could be used as cellular repeaters to provide boosted LTE signals in temporarily packed venues and other hard-to-reach locations where towers may not be enough:

9to5Mac Happy Hour

Imagine you’re at a concert watching your favorite band, and out of the corner of your eye you notice a tethered drone hovering nearby.

But this drone isn’t taking photos or videos of the band.  It’s temporarily providing enhanced LTE wireless coverage at the packed venue so you, along with thousands of others in attendance, can simultaneously send photos and videos to share the moment.

AT&T says that such a scenario isn’t deployable just yet, but the carrier has entered the trial phase of its national drone program that will focus on how drones can improve the network experience for customers in various ways.

The carrier says it’s currently deploying drones to “perform aerial inspections of our cell towers” which it plans to demo at its SHAPE Tech Expo on Friday and Saturday in San Francisco this week. Connecting drones to its LTE network lets it test connectivity in the field and receive data to make changes instantly and without human risk:

By using drones to inspect a cell site, we’re able to conduct inspections more quickly and safely – and even access parts of a tower that a human simply could not.  We anticipate this will allow us to improve our customers’ experience by enhancing our cell sites faster than ever before.

AT&T’s Art Pregler who has extensive experience in the United States Air Force is leading the carrier’s drone effort. The carrier is also looking at ways drone use could directly impact customers in the future:

We’re researching how in-flight drones can use our LTE network to send large amounts of data in real-time. This capability may benefit areas such as insurance, farming, facility and asset inspections, and even delivery service companies.

Definitely an interesting concept that could be a reality in the future. Amazon drones delivering our packages directly and AT&T drones filling in the LTE dead zones as needed.

About the Author

Zac Hall's favorite gear