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EE demos balloon and drone-based technologies that could support ESN

David Bicknell Published 21 February 2017

Mobile 4G network provider whose coverage is integral to the Emergency Services Network also showcased “rapid response vehicles” to keep network live during any outages


EE has unveiled an array of new future mobile technologies which may have the potential to be used in the future to support the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

At an event in London, EE demonstrated 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.

As well as focusing on aerial solutions for replacement and remote consumer coverage, the company also plans to deploy a fleet of “rapid response vehicles” that will support ESN, keeping the service live during local site outages and essential maintenance.

Discussing how it can provide additional 4G mobile coverage, EE showed how it can use mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon – a ‘Helikite’ – to deliver 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 base station and antenna that can provide targeted coverage, including for tasks like search and rescue operations.

The company said its 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 the most remote areas. The company's tethered and powered mobile ‘air mast’ solutions are currently in patent-pending status and it expects to be able to deliver a deployed balloon solution in a rural environment this year.

EE’s chief executive 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.”

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