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How cellular service is provided in emergencies and for special events: COWs and COLTs May 19, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Telecommunications.
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Frequently, natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes and hurricanes can destroy cellular infrastructure such as cell sites and switches. Fortunately, portable cellular equipment can be deployed to not only enable the continuation of normal cellular service but also provide extra cellular capacity in the case of a special event, such as conventions, major sporting events, and festivals. There are two main ways to provide this extra capacity or infrastructure replacement on demand: COWs and COLTs. A COW is a Cell site On Wheels, and a COLT is a Cell site on a Light Truck. The difference between the two is that a COW consists of cellular equipment on a flat-bed trailer that requires a hook-up to a truck tractor, whereas a COLT is able to be driven to a particular location for immediate deployment.

Both COWs and COLTs have their own batteries or generators, so they can operate independently of the availability of a local electrical supply.  Usually they have either one or two cellular towers that are used to communicate back to the local switch. Many of these portable cellular sites also have a small office and emergency supplies. COLTs are used more often in the event of a natural disaster, as their independent operation (no need to hook up to a truck tractor, smaller size and higher mobility) can be a boon to rapidly restoring cellular service for emregency crews and workers.

Extra cellular capacity is often required in the case of a major sporting event like the Olympics or during large political conventions. In such instances, repeaters make spectrum available inside buildings from nearby “donor” cell sites. Repeaters within radio range of the “donor” cell site are located at the convention hall or sporting event building to provide more capacity for cell users. This repeater can then redirect and extend cellular signals from the nearby donor cellular site into the convention hall or building.


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