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BT Newsbyte
BT's quarterly newsletter for analysts, consultants and investors - Issue 43 - March 2017

4G balloons set to revolutionise mobile coverage

Marc AlleraBy Marc Allera, CEO EE

At EE we're 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 pioneering technologies and methods that will revolutionise coverage and ultimately help our customers, even in the most hard-to-reach areas.

The latest innovation is patent-pending balloon and drone 'air masts' and a fleet of rapid response vehicles (RRVs).

By using mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon, a 'Helikite', we'll be able to provide wide area 4G mobile coverage where there is currently none. This development is supported by the use of drones equipped with mini sites, each including a base station and antenna, which can be used to provide targeted coverage in rural areas.

EE Air MastThese drones could eventually be used in search and rescue operations. Alongside the 4G balloons, they could provide 4G coverage in permanent sites that have been damaged; enabling us to aid disaster recovery, such as responding to a flood.

The new fleet of RRVs will support the nascent Emergency Services Network. This will enable the vital service to remain live during local site outages and essential maintenance.

Crucially, these unique solutions demonstrate that small cells, connected back into our network over satellite or our 4G spectrum, enable calls and access to the internet in the most remote areas. Our tethered and powered mobile 'air mast' solutions are currently in patent-pending status, and we hope to deploy the first balloon solution in 2017.