4G is to take to the sky in an unexpected way, with EE set to deploy ‘helikite’ drones to fill in wireless coverage gaps when its 4G network goes down or needs more capacity.
EE will trial the aerostat drones, which are attached to helium balloons and are dubbed ‘air masts’ by the operator, over areas that need a network boost on a temporary basis. For example, balloons could be deployed at Glastonbury or a major cultural event when demand for data is high for just a short period.
The mobile operator’s work with the drones is not new, with EE working towards deploying the drones in rural areas where it has been difficult to establish a traditional mobile network infrastructure.
EE has bold ambitions for its 4G network, aiming for 92% of the UK’s landmass to be covered by its network by the end of this year. Expansion for EE is key, with its Emergency Services Network contract requiring the supply of communications to the emergency services.
In addition to the patent-pending balloon and drone-based mobile coverage solutions, EE will also deploy a fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles that will support the new Emergency Services Network, aiming to keep the vital services 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. 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.”