Pionnering ‘Air Mast’ technology for rural mobile coverage & disaster recovery

British mobile carrier EE has unveiled plans to use a fleet of drones and miniature blimps to supply mobile phone coverage across rural areas of the UK.

The company believes its patent-pending balloon and drone ‘air masts’ could be vital in maintaining coverage in the aftermath of natural disasters and for search & rescue operations.

EE, the mobile network with the largest 4G coverage in the UK, showcased how it proposes to use airborne craft to beam signal down to users below.

The helium balloons and drones are fitted with miniature mobile sites, to provide wide area 4G mobile coverage where permanent sites have been damaged or in areas where there is no 4G coverage.

EE also demonstrated the use of drones equipped with mini sites, each including a basestation and antenna, that could be used to provide temporary, targeted coverage for search and rescue operations.

As well as aerial solutions for replacement and remote mobile coverage, EE also plans to deploy a fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles tailor made to support the Emergency Services Network, keeping this vital service online during local site outages and essential maintenance.

Commenting on these developments, 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.” he added.

The BT-owned company intends to deploy this technology in the field for the first time this year, whether a similar program will be proposed for Ireland, remains to be seen.

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