You may have read our recent press release titled ‘Alta Devices Introduces New Solar Product to Enable Flying Cell Phone Towers’ and wondered what a flying cell phone tower is or why they are important. In this blog post we explain what this disruptive technology is and why it is needed.

What is a flying cell phone tower?

They are drones, airships, balloons and aircraft designed to provide connectivity such as 5G cell phone service or encrypted video to a designated coverage area on the ground.

solar HALE UAV drone flying cell phone tower

Helios Solar HALE UAV


How do they work?

These aircraft or balloons are unmanned and autonomous. They are designed to fly very efficiently and use solar cells to charge on-board batteries during the day. The batteries power the aircraft or balloon during nighttime operation. They are designed to stay on position once at altitude and provide a broad geographic area with communications coverage.


Why are they needed?

Many places around the world are underserved or unserved in communications infrastructure. Examples include remote locations, disaster areas, search and rescue operations, military surveillance operations and atmospheric or climate research projects.

These flying cell phone towers offer unmatched flexibility in terms of customization, positioning and programming abilities over alternatives such as satellites and terrestrial cell phone towers.


Why are they solar powered?

Continuous coverage is often required for months at a time and solar is the most viable way to power these lightweight, zero emission, electric aircraft for extended operations.


How is Alta Devices involved?

Alta Devices recently announced a new product, Alta Devices AnylightTM Solar for HALE UAVs, the first solar technology designed specifically for flying cell phone towers. This solar technology is based on Alta Devices record breaking solar technology combined with specialized packaging to help it withstand stratospheric conditions. Alta Devices has worked with multiple HALE UAV and HAPS customers to develop this new technology.

Why are they important?

Flying cell phone towers provide connectivity where other options may not be possible, may be too costly or have lengthy lead times. After a natural disaster it can take many months or longer to re-establish communications infrastructure. During that period, flying cell phone towers can be easily deployed and re-deployed as needed, such as when a fire front shifts.

Where do they fly?

These aircraft fly at stratospheric altitudes of 20km (60,000 feet). At this altitude they are above clouds and weather and able to cover a broad geographic area, much broader than terrestrial towers. This is also above commercial airspace. Terrestrial phone tower coverage is limited by how high an antenna can be placed.


How are they different from satellites?

These aircraft and airships are operationally more flexible and cost effective than satellites. They fly at a lower altitude and so don’t require a rocket launch which is a major cost saving. Satellites once in orbit usually can’t be altered while these airships can be repositioned or remain on-station as required.