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EE takes to the skies with Googly balloon network

Escape from daily routine . Mixed media

EE has announced it will soon be launching some very Googlish-looking connectivity balloons and drones to bolster its public safety LTE rollout.

Back in 2015 EE won the tender to supply the UK’s first ever LTE network for emergency communications and disaster scenarios and has gotten to work on developing a novel approach for ensuring connectivity in trying circumstances. The BT-owned mobile operator showcased a series of balloon and drone-supported mini mobile sites at London’s Oval Cricket Ground, which the operator says can be used to provide targeted coverage during, for example, search and rescue operations.

Balloon and drone supported mobile coverage, hmmmm? Sounds awfully familiar.

Whether or not EE has gotten to the aeronautic connectivity finish line first is inconsequential. What is significant from this announcement is that what is effectively an airborne RAN has totally taken off – if you’d pardon the pun.

For years Google has been promising that its respective balloon and drone based efforts (Projects Loon and Titan respectively) will drastically improve how operators, governments and emergency services can respond to accidents and disaster scenarios, purely by floating over a whopping great mobile network to the area most affected. Other vendors, like Nokia, have gone down the route of keeping the RAN firmly on terra firma – but instead opting to cram the whole thing into a teeny tiny backpack.

However, it looks like EE is pretty much first across the finish line to become the emergency services’ one-stop-shop for all things connectivity. Not only is it going to be deploying this suite of basestation-carrying balloons this year, it is also getting ready to deploy a whole fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles supporting EE’s dedicated Emergency Services Network.

Marc Allera, EE’s CEO, was suitably chuffed at what looks like a pretty impressive innovation.

“We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the UK,” he said. “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.”

So if you live in the arse-end of nowhere and have trouble connecting to EE’s network, or if an impending flood threatens to ruin things for everywhere, it won’t be too long before you’ve just gotta look to skies and await EE’s floating mobile miracle.


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What area of the telecoms and tech industry should be the top priority for regulators?

  • Net neutrality (24%, 13 Votes)
  • Data Privacy (22%, 12 Votes)
  • Spectrum allocation (15%, 8 Votes)
  • 5G preparedness (13%, 7 Votes)
  • Consumer protection (11%, 6 Votes)
  • Autonomous cars (6%, 3 Votes)
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