Friday October 14th, 2016

Read about the latest sports tech news, innovations, ideas and products that impact players, fans and the sports industry at SportTechie.com.

AT&T is deploying drones in sports venues across the United States to track wireless signal strength and eliminate connectivity dead zones.

Drones hovering above stadium bleachers are equipped with AT&T’s EchoBOT technology. “Echo Drones,” test the user experience at countless locations throughout a venue by “simulating surfing the web, making calls, sending texts, and uploading and downloading video and text files,” according to AT&T’s website.  

AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas is a premier venue benefitting from Echo Drone technology. In the past Dallas Cowboy fans had issues uploading media and connecting to social networks, calling the mobile experience at AT&T stadium, “awfully slow,” according to a news report from CBS Dallas/Fort Worth (CBSDFW). 

“The next time that customer is sitting in that same seat, trying to send that same selfie, it goes through. It goes through fast and there’s a much better experience for the end user,” Art Pregler, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Director at AT&T, told CBSDFW in a video interview.

Drones identify heavily saturated areas where many users are attempting to access the same wireless signal. “From that drone information we can target specifically where we need to make upgrades to our network, and we can add that capacity,” Pregler said.

Benefits of the drone program are not limited to the end user. Typically, running a connectivity analysis on an entire stadium would take 10-15 backpacked AT&T employees four to five days. Echo Drones accomplish the same thing in four hours.

“What we’re looking to do with our drones is to say, let’s fly it, rather than walk it,” Paula Doublin, AT&T Assistant Vice President of Network Services explained.

There are safety applications for drones as well. AT&T is starting to use drones to inspect cell towers, a job traditionally reserved for workers wearing rope harnesses. By using drones AT&T is saving time and keeping workers safely on the ground, John Donovan Chief Strategy Officer and Group President, AT&T Technology and Operations said.

Echo Drones’ arrival at sports venues is a small part of AT&T’s national drone program launch from mid September. The company plans future drone applications like temporarily boosting signal capacity at crowded concerts, or flying mobile wireless hotspots into disaster areas.

“Our national drone program is driving innovation, and focuses on how AT&T and our customers can benefit from drone-based solutions,” Donovan said.

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