EE floats 4G balloon mast technology

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

BT-owned mobile operator has unveiled "Air Mast", offering airborne connectivity solutions for remote locations

EE Air Mast

EE, the mobile operator owned by BT, has unveiled flying masts aimed at boosting coverage in remote locations, and keeping areas hit by natural disasters connected.

The air mast technology consists of mini mobile sites attached to balloons and drone-based devices to provide 4G signal in areas that prove challenging for traditional masts to reach.

Small cells are attached to a helium balloon – labelled a “Helikite” by EE – to transmit mobile signal where permanent sites have been damaged, or in areas where there is currently no 4G signal.

EE also demonstrated drones which are equipped with mini sites, including a basestation and antenna, which will be used to provide targeted coverage for situations such as search and rescue operations.

The solution is connected back into EE’s own network using a combination of 4G and satellite backhaul, which is being provided by Avanti.

Unveiling the technology at The Oval cricket ground in London, EE said it expect to deploy a patent-pending balloon solution in a rural environment some time in 2017. 

EE CEO Marc Allera said: “We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the UK. Innovation is essential for us to go further than we’ve ever gone, and deliver a network that’s more reliable than ever before. Rural parts of the UK provide more challenges to mobile coverage than anywhere else, so we have to work harder there – developing these technologies will ultimately help our customers, even in the most hard to reach areas.

“Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionising the way people connect. In the future, why couldn’t we offer what we're calling 'coverage on demand'? What if an event organiser could request a temporary EE capacity increase in a rural area, or a climber going up Ben Nevis could order an EE aerial coverage solution to follow them as they climb? We need to innovate, and we need to think differently, always using customers’ needs to drive the way we create new technologies.”

As well as aerial solutions for replacement and remote consumer coverage, EE is also deploying a fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles that will support the new Emergency Services Network, a contract EE won last year.

Satellite operator Avanti yesterday announced an agreement with Telkom Kenya that will see it connect 1,160 business innovation hubs across the Kenyan operator's network.