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A Suitcase-Sized Portable Cell Tower for Emergency Responders

AT&T’s small-but-powerful Remote Mobility Zone provides mobile voice and data capability in the absence of traditional wireless coverage.

Emergency personnel responding to a crisis might have one less thing to worry about while on the job: their cell phone connection.

AT&T has released a portable cell site to serve in disaster situations that is small enough to fit into a suitcase, giving first responders another communications tool when regular communications channels are offline.

Called the AT&T Remote Mobility Zone, the device provides mobile voice and data capability in the absence of wireless coverage. While portable cell sites aren’t new, they usually involve large vehicles that serve as a cell tower. But AT&T’s new small-but-powerful offering lets emergency workers control where they have coverage, providing flexibility in times of need.

The product is available in three options. The “Fly-away” solution for emergency responders, the “Park and Use” version that allows a small cell site to be integrated into a vehicle, and a fixed site deployment, which is mounted and can be used to as a backup communications system.

The two mobile configurations can be set up in as little as 30 minutes, according to Chris Hill, vice president of AT&T Advance Mobility Solutions. Hill said that the “Fly-away” and “Park and Use” versions provide approximately one-half mile of cellular coverage, while the fixed deployment provides a one-mile coverage radius.

The Remote Mobility Zone can handle up to 14 simultaneous calls and cell phone users whose devices utilize the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard — which is roughly 80 percent of the global market does, according to the GSM Association.

The solution uses small cellular network sites called PicoCells to supply mobile voice and data services to an area. But Hill admitted data transmission speeds aren’t quite up to today’s fastest networks.

“The PicoCell developed for [the] AT&T Remote Mobility Zone is a 2.5G (EDGE) technology, meaning that users can access data networks, just not at 3G speeds,” Hill said.

Despite its portability, the Remote Mobility Zone isn’t completely self-sufficient. It runs on electricity. So if the power is down in an emergency situation, a generator still needs to be present to operate the device.

The Remote Mobility Zone’s price varies depending on the configuration, according to Hill. Costs range anywhere from $15,000 to $45,000. Those numbers exclude fixed-site installation, and other options. There are also recurring monthly charges to use the system.


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.