An American flag torn to shreds by Hurricane Florence went viral — with Cambium Networks making the connection

The wind-whipped American flag that acquired viral celebrity as Hurricane Florence came ashore owed its steady webcam streaming to a 56-mile wireless link provided by Cambium Networks.

A video camera on Frying Pan Tower — a Coast Guard light station 34 miles off the coast of North Carolina, out of sight of land — provided some of the first views of the intensifying weather as Hurricane Florence lumbered toward the Carolinas. Streaming video from the webcam trained on the American flag at the tower caught the attention — and the imagination — of tens of thousands of watchers on YouTube, as the flag was lashed by hurricane-force winds and slowly began to shred.

As is the way of things on the internet, in short order, the flag had acquired a name — Kevin — an unofficial Twitter handle and a viral following.

The flag, said Frying Pan Tower part-owner and operator Richard Neal, “took on his own life, his own name,” with tens of thousands of watchers checking in during the long, first night of the storm to see if the flag was still there. “It really tugged at many people’s hearts, in ways that I never expected. … It’s been magic. We’ve loved it.”

Neal has since taken the flag down and delivered it to the American Red Cross, to be auctioned with the proceeds going to hurricane relief efforts.

Scott Imhoff, SVP of product management at Cambium Networks, said that about 35 miles of the 56-mile link to Frying Pan Tower are over water. The link was set up for communications at Frying Pan Tower, not for the hurricane specifically — but the placement was fortuitous for weather-watchers.

“It was pretty cool in providing real-time visibility to the storm as it came ashore,” Imhoff said. “It really showed you the strength of that storm.”

Imhoff said that there are two major challenges for such a long-distance link: the physical environment of the radio, and the radio frequency path. The link operates in 4.9-5.9 GHz spectrum and utilizes Cambium’s PTP 650 OFDM-based radio for data transport. Imhoff said that while Cambium doesn’t test its equipment specifically for hurricane-readiness, it does test its radios and brackets to very high wind-load standards to withstand the high winds that are common conditions at the top of radio towers. The PTP 650 is also rated for weather resistance to blowing water.

For the RF link itself, he noted, “going across water of any kind is fairly difficult for RF” — much less in hurricane conditions. Cambium designs its equipment to be able to leverage multiple possible RF paths and the radio utilized dynamic spectrum optimization to select different carriers out of 1,024 possible sub-carriers to maintain the link, Imhoff said.

The wireless link held strong during the hurricane, and continues to — but the cam is currently offline due to flooding of the internet service provider that connects the inland TV tower, according to Neal.

Frying Pan Tower was built in the early 1960s, before the advent of GPS and other modern navigation. It picked up the name Frying Pan Tower because it was situated at the end of a shoal that mariners thought was shaped like the handle of a frying pan, Neal said. The tower, which is now a bed and breakfast, is equipped with solar panels for power. Neal said that the Frying Pan Tower webcams — there are several, sponsored by multimedia organization Explore, both above and below the waterline — are primarily educational, to allow far-off observers such as school children to view the abundant fish in the area.

As he sought the ability to connect the remote tower, Neal said, the initial reaction he got from engineers was: “’56 miles? Are you out of your mind?'” But eventually, he said, some space was donated on an inland TV tower for the other end of the link, and that equipment — placed at 1,320 feet in elevation — enables the tower to stay connected. At the tower itself, Neal said, there were challenges such as how to hang the camera off pipes and how to keep cable connectors from being blown off in the sea winds.

Neal, who described himself as a computing nerd, said that in his own experience, both hardware and software have to be of high quality in order for technology to work.

“With the Cambium radio, one of the things they offer is the capability of good hardware and really good software to dial it in, to figure out the best signal we can get,” he said. “We’ve been very pleased with that.”


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