In states like Wyoming, it’s not unusual to lose cell phone coverage in the vast expanses of rural terrain. While it’s an inconvenience most of the year, it can be a logistical challenge during fire season when crews are deployed wherever needed, nearby cell towers or not.
This fire season Union Wireless is helping firefighters in Wyoming stay connected with the use of a solar powered makeshift cell tower, called a C.O.W. or Cellular on Wheels.
The company sent the C.O.W. to a remote area in Carbon County Wyoming where more than 100 personnel took on the West Battle Creek Fire. The C.O.W. is run by 16 solar panels and a wind turbine, said Kevin Kleinsmith, director of engineering, in an email interview.
When assembled it stands about 8-feet high and becomes a portable wireless cell tower. Since there are no power sources in some areas, the power comes from the solar cells and wind turbine. At maximum sun exposure and with maximum wind velocity, the C.O.W. generates 6.8 kilowatts of power, Kleinsmith said. It was operational within minutes of assembly in Carbon County and allowed firefighters at the command center to get updates on weather conditions and to provide feedback to the agencies, a press release said.
The one stationed in Carbon County is one of four towers Union Wireless owns. The company has owned solar C.O.W.s for about one and-a-half years, said Brian Woody, chief customer relations officer in an email interview. The Battle Creek fire was the first time the company used the technology to aid fire crews. The C.O.W. was at the site for three days and use of the tower was not limited to just Forest Service Personnel. All support services could use it, Kleinsmith said.
The solar C.O.W.s have been used to aid oil and gas projects in the region, as well as provide remote wireless service for major events in places not yet served by traditional wireless or landline communications.
“The investment in solar C.O.W.s is very expensive,” Woody said in a press release. “But having the capability to operate within these extreme remote locations allows us to not only serve the needs of the community, but also the various state and local governmental agencies.”
The company, as Union Telephone, has a 100-year history of providing service for local communities, Woody said. Solar C.O.W.s are just a new part of carrying on that tradition.