Meanwhile, AT&T’s access to resources meant that the carrier provided traditional truck-based deployable solutions in the Florida Keys—the U.S. area hit hardest by Hurricane Irma—48 hours before any other carrier, Sambar said.

“That’s our commitment to public safety, and that’s our commitment to the people of the United States,” he said. “That’s our mission, and we were stepping up—and we haven’t even built all of the extra stuff that we’re building on the FirstNet network yet. This is an example of what ‘big’ gets you and how it helps.”

In California, towed cell on light trucks (CoLTs) played a key role in keeping firefighters connected, Sambar said.

“This provides LTE service wherever you need it,” Sambar said. “In this case, the tower that was serving this area … was completely burned up—which happens, you’re not going to protect the network 100% of the time, so things are going to get destroyed, whether it’s a Category 4 or 5 hurricane or a fire that burns something up completely.

“But this truck is able to follow the firefighters around, and California was very happy with the way we stepped up.”

In Puerto Rico, AT&T was even more creative, partnering with Google to leverage Project Loon balloons carrying an LTE base station 60,000 feet above the ground to provide low-rate data connectivity across a large coverage area in locations that lacked terrestrial cell service, Sambar said. In addition, AT&T used tethered drones to deliver high-bandwidth data throughput to a smaller footprint of 25 square miles, he said.

“Again, this is what you get from ‘big,’” Sambar said. “This is innovation. We have the money from our research-and-development budget to do innovation for our commercial network but also for public safety.”