EE claims first 4G ‘air mast’ for ad hoc remote connectivity

A 4G base station hanging from a balloon was used to enable mountain bikers in Wales to do a 360-degree live stream of their antics.

Say what you like about EE, but the UK operator knows how to put on a publicity stunt. Whether its wallowing in mud at Glastonbury or skiing in Scotland, EE wants everyone to know how good it is at covering remote UK locations and will go to great lengths to prove it.

It seems the only thing missing from the Red Bull Foxhunt downhill mountain biking event in Snowdonia was the ability for participants to livestream their attempts to seriously injure themselves via 360-degree cameras. Enter EE and its balloons.

The recent event apparently saw the first commercial use of a balloon-based ‘air mast’ technology called Helikite, even though it’s neither a helicopter nor a kite. It provided 4G connectivity for EE subscribers and a wifi hotspot for everyone else. To show it delivered the promised connectivity EE got a rider called Juliet Elliot, who is apparently an Instagram star, to hand over her recording, which you can see below.

“We have 4G coverage in more places than any other operator and are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the UK, but when we saw the remote location of Red Bull Foxhunt we knew we had to go even further – and our ‘air mast’ technology was the perfect solution to provide coverage on demand, keeping everyone at the event connected,” said EE CEO Marc Allera, improbably all in one breath. “This is the first time anywhere in the world that a Helikite ‘air mast’ has been used to provide complete 4G connectivity to consumers, and it’s a sign of how far we’re going to keep everyone connected.”

Outside of publicity stunts it remains to be seen how important this Helikite thing will be. Balloons clearly have a role to play in emergency connectivity, such as recently in Puerto Rico, but for permanent coverage surely the good old land mast remains the best bet.


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