Cell on wheels

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COW in parking lot of the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California for the 2005 Rose Bowl game, with its own power generator

Cell on wheels (COW) or site on wheels[1] is a portable mobile cellular site that provides temporary network and wireless coverage to locations where cellular coverage is minimal or compromised. COWs provide fully functional service, via vehicles such as trailers, vans and trucks, to areas affected by natural disaster or areas with large user volume, such as major events.

Expanded or emergency service[edit]

COWs are used to provide expanded cellular network coverage and/or capacity for short-term demands, such as at special events such as major sporting events (Super Bowl, World Series, Rose Bowl), major conventions, or in disaster areas where cellular coverage either was minimal, never present (e.g., in a wilderness area where firefighters have set up a command center during a major forest fire) or was compromised by the disaster (e.g., in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina).

Following the September 11 attacks on New York City in 2001, 36 cellular COWs were deployed by September 14, 2001 in Lower Manhattan to support the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provide critical phone service to rescue and recovery workers.

COWs provided cellular service in Southwest Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley in 2004 when most of the area's stationary cell towers were destroyed.[2] In January 2009, 26 cell-on-wheels units were put in place in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of Barack Obama to handle the millions of extra people and their calls in the city, especially on and near the National Mall.

Many telecommunications companies also use COWs for long-term placement when financing or infrastructure considerations prevent building a permanent site at the location. For instance, a carrier may have approved the placement of a cell site for coverage reasons, but the remaining budget is inadequate to fund the construction for a fiscal quarter or even longer.[citation needed] An engineering team may be able to place a COW on location to provide immediate coverage with few costs other than leasing, electricity, and backhaul. The decision to use a COW for an extended period of time may also be driven by the property owner. Installations on government or military facilities may be granted only on a temporary basis, and may require the use of non-permanent facilities.


Not all portable communication centers are created equally. Many are nothing more than a cargo trailer or box that has been modified to hold communication equipment and have an antenna tower. Tower types vary from one manufacturer to another; guyed vs. unguyed, methods of deploying the tower, whether it meets TIA/EIA specifications. Many COWs do not protect their sensitive equipment from the effects of lightning or power surges. The backhaul to the network can be via terrestrial microwave, communication satellite, or existing wired infrastructure.

General Dynamics Mission Systems Deployable 4G LTE Cell on Wheels (COW) parked outside of the New Mexico State Fair.

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