EE pioneers 'air mast' technology for rural mobile coverage and disaster recovery

  • EE to use own patent-pending balloon and drone-based mobile coverage solutions for keeping rural communities connected
  • ‘Air mast’ solutions key to maintaining coverage for consumers during disaster recovery and for search & rescue
  • Rapid Response Vehicles unveiled as vital capability to keeping Emergency Services Network running through essential maintenance and local site outages

EE today showcased a vital mobile technology of the future, demonstrating how it will use its patent-pending balloon and drone ‘air masts’ to connect the most remote parts of the UK and keep communities online in the wake of disasters such as major flooding.

EE, the mobile network with the largest 4G coverage in the UK, showed how it can use mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon – a ‘Helikite’ – to provide wide area 4G mobile coverage where permanent sites have been damaged or in areas where there is no 4G coverage. EE also showcased the use of drones equipped with mini sites, each including a basestation and antenna, that could be used to provide targeted coverage, including in search and rescue operations.

EE’s unique solutions demonstrate the use of small cells connected back into the EE network over satellite or using EE’s 4G spectrum to be able to make calls and access the internet from even the most remote areas. EE’s tethered and powered mobile ‘air mast’ solutions are currently in patent-pending status.

EE expects to deliver a deployed balloon solution in a rural environment in 2017.

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, keeping this vital service live during local site outages and essential maintenance.

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. We're developing the concept of '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.”

EE is upgrading more than 100 sites to 4G every week as part of its network expansion on the way to 92% UK geographic coverage in 2017. Some of those 100 sites per week add new coverage and some increase signal strength, capacity and reliability in areas with existing coverage. EE is also rolling out a further 3,000 sites using low frequency 800MHz spectrum that reaches further in rural areas and improves indoor coverage.

EE’s breakthroughs in developing innovative aerial solutions have been achieved with the support of the most innovative partners from the mobile industry and beyond: Nokia has provided world class, lightweight, compact and portable Flexi Zone small cell basestation solutions; Parallel Wireless has delivered a unique technology with self-configuring and self-optimising basestation, in-band backhaul capability, and network meshing techniques; Avanti has enabled a fast, reliable satellite backhaul connection; VoltServer has provided touch-safe and flexible Digital Electricity power over data cable/tether; uVue has evolved drone designs to meet the specific requirements of providing mobile coverage; and Allsopp Helikites has provided the ‘Helikite’ solution that makes a stable, high altitude service possible.

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About EE

EE, part of BT Group, is the largest and most advanced mobile communications company in the UK, delivering mobile and fixed communications services to consumers.

EE runs the UK's biggest and fastest mobile network, having pioneered the UK's first superfast 4G mobile service in October 2012, and was the first European operator to surpass 14 million 4G customers in Dec 2015. EE has more than 550 shops across the UK. EE's 4G coverage today reaches more than three quarters of the UK geography. EE plans to extend 4G to 95% geographic coverage by 2020.

EE has received extensive independent recognition, including being ranked the UK's best overall network by RootMetrics®; Best Network at the 2014 and 2015 Mobile News Awards; Best Network at the Mobile Choice Consumer Awards 2016; Best Consumer Network at the 2015 & 2016 Mobile Industry Awards; Best Network and Best Customer Support at the What Mobile Awards 2016; as well as Fastest Network at the 2014 and 2016 uSwitch Mobile Awards.

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