Holy cow! How much can they milk this for?
COLTs, COWs and SuperCOWs may sound like the stuff of barnyards, but they also play a big role in the high-tech world of wireless communications.
Verizon Wireless has started operating a COLT (Cell on Light Truck), a mobile cell tower that will keep cell phones operating at disaster sites in Arizona.
Other companies such as Sprint have towed COWs (Cell on Wheels) and Super-COWs (bigger Cell on Wheels) that also provide cell service in emergencies and at major events that generate large volumes of cellular phone traffic.
Nextel, sponsor of the Nextel Cup racing series, has developed a huge mobile cell tower truck especially for NASCAR races that it calls the NASCOW (NASCAR Cell on Wheels). It will make its Arizona debut Nov. 7 at Phoenix International Raceway to handle an expected huge volume of calls made by spectators at the Checker Auto Parts 500.
Self-contained mobile cell sites have long been a part of the basic infrastructure of cell phone operators — filling in during emergencies when regular towers are out of operation or at major events where large crowds generate heavy traffic on their networks. Now cell companies are upgrading their systems to provide preparedness and capacity in increasingly specialized circumstances.
The Verizon COLT, which rolled out this month, is unusual because it is reserved especially for emergencies such as wildfires or monsoon storms in which customers and emergency response officials would need wireless phone service for communications, said Marcus Stevenson, the company’s director of network operations.
"We have it because it can be rapidly deployed, and it’s under our control," Stevenson said. "We don’t have to rely on a vendor to tow it or install the antenna system."
The $500,000 COLT is equipped with two retractable masts that can process thousands of calls per hour. The equipment runs on a diesel generator with battery backups, and the truck is equipped with three days of emergency food and other supplies if the two-person crew is deployed to a remote area.
The Phoenix region was chosen as the base for the COLT because of its central location for quick response throughout Arizona as well as nearby areas such as Las Vegas, El Paso, Texas, and New Mexico, said spokeswoman Jenny Weaver. Verizon is also operating similar COLTs in other parts of the nation, she said.
Nextel’s NASCOW is much bigger — a 53-foot truck with the capacity of 10 to 11 cell tower sites, spokeswoman Debra Havins said. It is placed on the infield at NASCAR races each weekend primarily to provide added cell phone capacity and tie in to Nextel’s sponsorship of NASCAR races, she said.
"With so many people in a concentrated area, we need to have the extra capacity at our disposal," she said.
The NASCOW is about twice the size of a Super-COW, and is the biggest mobile cell site operated by Nextel, she said. It was deployed for the first time in February at Daytona Beach, Fla., and is part of a series of promotions and services that Nextel has developed for fans as part of the company’s NASCAR sponsorship, Havins said.
Some cellular providers are sticking to the traditional towed COWS for emergency and backup capabilities. Sprint spokesman Charles Fleckenstein said his company’s mobile towers proved their worth during the blackout last year in the Northeast.
"Everyone has something like this. You have to back up everything," he said. "Our pasture is well-stocked."