AT&T this week launched the trial phase of its national drone programme to see how the unmanned aerial vehicles can benefit customers.

The team “brings decades of military, flight control and tech experience to the job” and has already used drones to perform aerial inspections of the operator’s cell towers, according to John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president – AT&T technology and operations.

The capability will be demonstrated at its SHAPE Conference in San Francisco this week.

Donovan explained that drones can conduct inspections of cell towers quickly and safely, and access parts of a tower that a human can’t. This will allow the operator to enhance cell sites faster than before and improve customers’ experience.

Other possible uses include Flying COWs (Cell on Wings) providing LTE coverage at large events and rapid disaster response.

AT&T said it also wants to be able to provide enhanced LTE wireless coverage at a concert so the thousands of people in attendance can simultaneously send photos and videos to share their experience.

“Connecting drones to our nationwide LTE network lets us capture data and feed it directly to our systems.  In turn, this can allow us to make changes to our network in real time,” Donovan added.

AT&T’s IoT team is also researching how in-flight drones can use its LTE network to send large amounts of data in real-time. This may benefit areas such as insurance, farming, asset inspections and delivery service companies.