EE takes inspiration from Google’s Project Loon to bolster coverage

(Image Credit: EE)

EE appears to have taken inspiration from Google’s Project Loon with airborne balloons and drones which can be used to connect rural areas or provide extra capacity.

Project Loon once seemed to be just another of Google ambitious projects, but it’s gone from strength-to-strength and reached a new milestone just last week after finding a way to keep the balloons in one spot for a prolonged time.

In unconnected rural areas, the initiatives will eventually connect people for the first time by overcoming the usual barriers such as difficult terrain or infrastructure costs outweighing the potential benefits for smaller communities.

“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,” says EE CEO Marc Allera. “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.”

The first deployments will be temporary. During large events, such as Glastonbury or a football match, the balloons will provide extra capacity to deal with the high levels of demand which often bring mobile networks to a halt. Where a network outage occurs, a drone can be deployed to quickly bring customers back online until an engineer fixes the issue.

“Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionising the way people connect. We’re developing the concept of ‘coverage on demand’,” continues Allera. “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?”

EE’s aerial solutions were developed with the support of several partners:

  • Nokia provided world class, lightweight, compact and portable Flexi Zone small cell basestation solutions.

  • Parallel Wireless delivered a unique technology with self-configuring and self-optimising basestation, in-band backhaul capability, and network meshing techniques.

  • Avanti enabled a fast, reliable satellite backhaul connection.

  • VoltServer provided touch-safe and flexible Digital Electricity power over data cable/tether.

  • uVue evolved drone designs to meet the specific requirements of providing mobile coverage.

  • Allsopp Helikites has provided the ‘Helikite’ solution that makes a stable, high altitude service possible.

The operator signed a contract back in 2015 to cover the entire country as part of the Emergency Services Network (ESN) which provides communication services for the police, fire and ambulance services. According to an EE spokesman, the helikites will be used by a specialist fleet of 32 ‘rapid response’ vans to deliver coverage in rural areas for the emergency services at short notice.

What are your thoughts on EE’s plan to use balloons for coverage? Let us know in the comments.

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