December 4, 2023

What’s new in the telecom industry – COWs can fly?) What does that mean?

Flying COW

Despite its amusing name, the Flying COW, short for Cell on Wings (See Project) is a drone-based cell site designed to provide LTE coverage from the skies, potentially saving lives and ensuring vital connectivity for customers in case of disaster. AT&T Mobility began to develop this new direction and compared to traditional COW units, the Flying COW boasts a smaller size, making its deployment easier and faster in certain situations.

What distinguishes it is its ability to soar at altitudes exceeding 300 feet, a remarkable 500% higher than conventional COW masts. This extended reach allows the Flying COW to provide coverage over an area of up to 40 square miles, a substantial footprint for critical communications. When emergencies strike, the Flying COW proves its resilience by being transportable and rapidly deployable, adapting to changing conditions on the ground.

Its versatility shines during crises like wildfires, where it can follow and support first responders, keeping them connected amid rapidly shifting environments. Notably robust, the Flying COW remains operational even in harsh weather conditions, braving high winds and heavy smoke to ensure uninterrupted connectivity. Thanks to this ingenuity, AT&T anticipates that the Flying COW will play a pivotal role in safeguarding communication during challenging times. 

So, what’s a COW?

Cell on wheels (COWs) is a portable cell tower that can provide wireless mobile network coverage in areas the existing infrastructure cannot handle. The COW installation consists of supporting masts, cellular antennas, radio units, equipment cabinets, and other equipment mounted on vehicles such as trucks or trailers.  

In our digital age, communication has become an integral part of our lives. Sending a message, calls to relatives, teaching a lesson, working routine – communication is everywhere. Telecommunications operators continually enhance their capabilities to provide widespread coverage. Telecomm equipment is in every direction – frames on roofs, pipe mounts on walls, poles along the road, and towers near shopping malls.

But what to do when there is no permanent infrastructure, or the existing infrastructure is damaged or overloaded and does not allow full connectivity for a huge number of consumers? In this case, COW will help. 

This installation has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Advantages of using COW units:

Swift Deployment: COW units can be rapidly and effortlessly deployed and retrieved, making them easy to relocate as needed.

Reliable Connectivity: These units provide robust and stable network connectivity, even in areas where it is traditionally unavailable or insufficient.

Enhanced Network Quality: COW units can bolster network quality at events like concerts, sports games, emergencies, and during peak usage periods.

Cost and Time Efficiency: Using COW units, the expenses and time required to construct cell towers in challenging locations are significantly reduced. 

Space Efficiency: With a compact footprint, COW units can be placed on a 40’x40′ lease area, requiring minimal space for operation. 

Reliability and Mobility: COW units are dependable, stable, and highly mobile, adapting to changing communication needs on the go.

Load Distribution: Reinforcement is unnecessary as the load can be evenly distributed by adding guy wires, ensuring structural integrity.

Foundation-Free Installation: COW units eliminate the need for extensive foundations; instead, guy wires can be attached to movable concrete blocks. 

Versatility with Antennas: These units offer the option to attach large multi-beam antennas, optimizing network coverage.

Future-Ready: COW units contribute to the development and deployment of cutting-edge technologies and services, including the advancement of 5G capabilities.

All-Inclusive Equipment: COW units come equipped with towers, shelters, mounts for RRUs, and essential hardware, simplifying setup. 

   Source: Costich Engineering

Challenges using COW units:

Regulatory and Environmental Constraints: Depending on the location and jurisdiction, COW units may face regulatory hurdles or environmental restrictions that can hinder their deployment. 

Signal Interference: The presence of COW units can potentially interfere with other signals in the area, leading to signal degradation or disruptions for nearby communication systems. 

Limited Coverage Area: Due to their smaller size in comparison to stationary towers, COW units may cover a relatively smaller area, potentially resulting in limited network coverage in certain situations. 

Expansion and Long-Term Installation: If the demand for coverage increases or long-term installation is required, it may be necessary to extend beyond the initially leased area, which could pose logistical challenges and additional costs. Multiple levels of guy wires might need to be set up to accommodate the expanded network needs. 

Addressing these issues requires careful planning and consideration of local regulations and environmental factors, along with the implementation of appropriate signal management strategies to minimize interference. Moreover, it may be essential to assess the long-term requirements and scalability of the network to ensure seamless coverage expansion when needed. 

Type of COWs

In our practice, we have worked with different types of COWs and would like to share some excellent solutions: 

Scissor Lift COW is a game-changer when it comes to deploying multibeam antennas in tight spaces. It offers a cost-effective alternative to crane rentals, enabling faster and more efficient antenna installations. Equipped with two masts that can reach up to 60.5 ft and lift about 1,200 pounds, the Scissor Lift COW ensures stable and secure placements, accommodating antennas with ease. 

Cell on Wheels

    Source: Sun West Engineering, Inc

Remote Radio Head COW is the ideal choice for those seeking a compact and secure solution. This system is designed to support up to 40 RRUs (Remote Radio Units) and features two integrated cabinets for seamless installation and maintenance. It ensures reliable and consistent performance while minimizing space requirements.                 

Remote Radio Head COW

Source: Sun West Engineering, Inc

Foldable Towers – feature a clever design with lattice sections that fold into each other for compact transportation and deployment. At the top of the tower, there’s a built-in mount designed to support antennas, making it easy to set up communication equipment. The tower can handle a load of up to 1,100 pounds and withstand maximum wind speeds of 110 mph. Meanwhile, the trailer has a substantial load capacity of around 4,000 pounds.

The significant advantage of this type of installation is its similarity to the Guyed Tower with the coverage comparable to a small Monopole. This similarity allows hardware attachment solutions similar to those used for Guyed Tower. Leveraging existing hardware solutions can simplify the deployment process. Higher antenna elevation is advantageous for maintaining strong communication signals. However, it’s essential to consider that this type of installation may require additional leased space due to the potential inclusion of guy wires.

Photo by Albul Engineering 

Source: Transcend Wireless  

Trailer Mounted Foldable COW Towersa wide array of mast options that can be seamlessly attached to trailers or other installations. These masts come in pneumatic, hydraulic, or manual deployment variants, providing versatility for various applications. The masts offer the flexibility of attaching guy wires for additional support and stability with a remarkable load capacity of up to 1,200 pounds.

Commonly referred to as heavy-duty masts, these installations are highly regarded for their robustness and reliability. They provide an ideal platform for deploying multi-beam antennas, making them a popular choice for communication setups. The inclusion of a short guy radius ensures efficient and effective antenna positioning, enhancing overall communication performance. 

Trailer Mounted Foldable COW Tower

Source: Will-Burt Ultra-Heavy Duty Telescoping Pneumatic Mast

Cell on Light Truck (COLT) is a mobile telecommunication solution that involves mounting cellular equipment on a light truck or van. In a nutshell, COW and COLT are both mobile telecommunication solutions that offer temporary coverage or capacity enhancement.

COWs are larger, more stationary installations mounted on trailers, while COLTs are smaller, mobile setups mounted on light trucks or vans, allowing quick deployment and versatility in various scenarios. COWs typically require more time for deployment and setup, as they involve erecting and stabilizing a tower. COLTs, being mounted on vehicles, can be deployed faster and with greater agility. 

Source: Costich Engineering 

Source: Costich Engineering 

Cell on Light Truck

Source: Costich Engineering 

Photo by Albul Engineering 

Engineering Considerations

To calculate COW installations, several critical factors must be considered to ensure a successful and efficient deployment. These tips and considerations are essential for achieving stable and reliable communication setups: 

Tailored Calculations: The complexity of the calculation and timing varies based on the installation length and the equipment load. Longer deployments with additional equipment may require guy wires, leading to more complex drawings and extended completion time. 

Leased Area and Tower Height: The available leased area should be carefully assessed to accommodate the tower’s height and equipment load. In some cases, increasing the leased area may be necessary for optimal installation. 

Guy Wires and Signal Interruption: The attachment of guy wires must be meticulously checked to avoid signal interruption. Adjustments or offsets may be required to ensure smooth communication. 

Long-Term Installations: For installations lasting over six months, design wind speed will be higher, necessitating the selection of appropriate guy wires and anchoring to concrete blocks. 

Concrete Block Options: Various concrete block options are available, including 2’x2’x6′, 3’x3’x6′, and K-Rail concrete blocks, which can be used to stabilize the tower. 

Temporary Guy Anchor Concrete Block 

Tower Deflection: Attention must be given to the tower’s deflection, which should not exceed 3 percent of its height (TIA-222-H Section 2.8.2). 

Wind Speed Calculation: When calculating wind speed on the structure, reducing factors are applied for installations up to six months (TIA-322 Section 4.5). 

Wind Speed Calculation

Equipment Placement: Careful consideration should be given to the placement of equipment to avoid tower overturning. The addition of concrete blocks and weight distribution can help stabilize the tower. 

Guy Wires and Stabilization: Installing guy wires with sufficient thickness (e.g., 1/4” or 5/16” EHS) can add stability under heavy loads or wind conditions. 

Surface Preparation: Clearing debris and organic matter and using mats under concrete blocks can prevent sliding and enhance stability. 

Outriggers and Stability: Maximizing the outrigger position on the trailer and using wooden blocks to support them prevent pavement damage and maintain tower stability. 


COW installations prove beneficial for temporary setups, cost-saving, and connecting a large number of consumers within a short time. Thoroughly checking the structure in calculation programs, examining truck overturning, and verifying deflection are essential steps in ensuring a reliable and successful COW deployment. By following these guidelines and considering the various factors involved, the stationing of COW installations can be carried out with confidence and efficiency. 






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