Everything Everywhere (EE), the mobile service subsidiary of British fixed line network operator BT, unveiled a novel solution this week to coverage gaps in rural areas. The plan calls for the usage of “helikite” balloons and drones to provide connectivity and additional capacity in times of network failure or when demand from sporting and other events overloads local networks.
Balloons and drones have been identified in recent years as a cost-effective method of delivering mobile broadband services to rural and other communities where construction of traditional network infrastructure is expensive. Speaking to reporters, EE CEO Marc Allera noted that the helikite balloons—which hover at an altitude of 150 feet, provide a signal radius of up to 3.1 miles, and are capable of remaining airborne for up to a month—could be deployed quickly in times of network outage or disaster or to provide additional network support during special events. The motor-powered drones, which have a signal range of up to 1.24 miles and stay airborne for only a few hours at a time, are best suited for local emergency situations of brief duration, such as search and rescue missions.
While affirming that EE is in the process of obtaining patents for the company’s “air mast” solution, Allera acknowledged that discussions with aviation authorities will be required to ensure that air mast balloons and drones are not deployed in restricted air space. EE expects to launch its first helikite balloon later this year and to fully implement its fleet of air mast balloons and drones over the next three years. As Allera told reporters that “I see innovations like this revolutionizing the way people connect,” a spokesman for the United Kingdom’s Cabinet Office on Information and Communications Technology termed EE’s air mast plan as “hugely impressive.”