Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

AT&T's Cell Phone Tower-In-A-Trunk For Disaster Zones

tornado damage

In emergency situations, establishing reliable comms can be vital for saving lives—but often established grids are taken out by the disaster itself. Enter AT&T's portable cell phone tower.

AT&T's new product, the Remote Mobility Zone, is specifically designed for fast deployment in post-disaster situations, and as well as connecting to existing cell networks in situations where a local tower is not working, it can even send phone signals up to sat-com systems. It can also "be set up in any area where AT&T cellular coverage is not available, but in which AT&T is licensed to provide cellular service," according to a press release. It's certainly a U.S.-based service, rather than a global solution, but it's exactly the sort of system that emergency responders may find useful in the aftermath of a tornado—which has the power to rip down existing cell phone masts.

The technology's not particularly new, but it's now going to be sold to corporate and government customers by AT&T. In the current disaster response scenario phone networks like AT&T send in the same kind of phone mast truck that's used at music festivals to improve cell phone reception, but the Mobility Zone is all about letting firefighters and police set up a communications grid immediately when they arrive on scene—taking the burden off their usual radio systems, and enabling local residents to make their own calls.

ATT Remote Mobility Zone Fly Away

Among the different solutions offered by AT&T under this product umbrella, the Fly Away one is the most innovative—it's basically and entire cell site in a suitcase, which includes all the electronics and antenna tech to connect up phones for one half a mile in any direction and needs just 30 minutes to set up. All that's needed is a small generator to provide power and some trained staff to assemble the thing. It's not as sophisticated as a fully fledged site, but it can handle up to 14 simultaneous calls and also allows data communications, for situations where imagery broadcasting would help. There are also larger solutions that enable up to 100 users concurrently, but these are the kind of installation that would occur later on in a long drawn-out recovery situation (such as the one Japan is facing after the earthquake and tsunami).

They're not going to be cheap, though—your own personal cell tower will cost you somewhere between $15,000 and $45,000 with annual fees on top.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

[Image via Flickr user Chad Davis.]

Read More: Apple Earnings Appetite Whetter: Verizon Not Cannibalizing AT&T's iPhone