British cellco EE has showcased what it called ‘a vital mobile technology of the future’, carrying out a demonstration of its patent-pending balloon and drone ‘air masts’. EE says it plans to utilise the technology to connect the most remote parts of the UK, while it will also be used to keep communities online in the wake of disasters such as major flooding. In the demonstration, EE showed how it can use mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon – a ‘Helikite’ – to provide wide area 4G coverage where permanent sites have been damaged, or in areas where there is no existing coverage. EE also showcased the use of drones equipped with mini sites, each including a base station and antenna, that could be used to provide targeted coverage, for example in search and rescue operations. EE said it solutions demonstrate the use of small cells connected back into its network over satellite, or using its LTE-suitable spectrum to be able to make calls and access the internet from even the most remote areas. According to the mobile network operator, it expects to deliver a deployed balloon solution in a rural environment sometime this year.
EE meanwhile noted that it is upgrading more than 100 sites to 4G every week as part of its network expansion, as it looks to achieve 92% UK geographic coverage in 2017. Some of those 100 sites per week add new coverage and others increase signal strength, capacity and reliability in areas with existing coverage, it said. In addition, the cellco is also rolling out a further 3,000 sites using low frequency 800MHz spectrum that reaches further into rural areas and improves indoor coverage.