AT&T To Begin Drone Program To Inspect Cell Towers

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) may have lofty ambitions when it comes to drones delivering packages, but it is AT&T Inc. (T), the telecommunications giant, that will be the first to use drones to keep consumers mobile phones working.

According to a report in the Seattle Times, AT&T will begin phasing in its first drone program this month, using the drones to inspect cell phone towers for any damage and to test its wireless network performance. The company, which is relying on lightweight, remote-control-operated drones, showed off the technology during a demonstration at the Husky Stadium in Seattle.

Art Pregler, the executive leading AT&T’s drone team, said in the report that the company will use drones to inspect cell towers and hopefully minimize the need for technicians to climb dangerous heights. The telecommunications company wants to use drones to make sure protected birds haven’t nested in cell sites. If they have, AT&T must leave them undistrubed. (See, also: AT&T and Intel Team Up For LTE Drones.)

AT&T’s move comes just as new rules for drone operations kicked in Monday, easing up restrictions. For instance, companies no longer have to get special permission from the federal government for commercial drone initiatives. Under the new rules, operators have to keep the drones within their visual line of sight and they can only fly them during the day. If the drone has anti-collision lights it can be operated in the evening hours as well. Prior to Monday, operators needed a pilot’s license to fly a commercial drone. Pregler said the new rules make it a lot easier on AT&T and its drone program.

Drones have been getting a lot of attention both from consumers and companies, with tech heavy hitters Amazon and Google in a race to use drones to do deliver packages. Earlier this month Google got clearance to begin testing drones at the six FAA-approved test sites found in the U.S. Up until the announcement, drone tests were prohibited in the U.S. without a human pilot or beyond the line of sight of the pilot. The U.S. reluctance to let Google and drone rival Amazon.com test their unmanned aircrafts has put the country behind Europe in speeding along the adoption rate of drones. It’s the reason Amazon announced late last month a partnership with the U.K. government to explore the steps needed to make drone delivery of small packages a reality. (See, also: Google Gets Greenlight To Test Delivery Drones.)
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