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Photo via EE

This mobile provider wants to use drones and blimps to provide cell service in rural areas

The technology will also be used to help emergency responders.


John-Michael Bond


Posted on Feb 23, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 10:54 pm CDT

One of the biggest roadblocks for the expansion of mobile services to new areas and the improvement of service in existing areas is infrastructure. Laying wire and building cell towers costs considerable time and money. This week British mobile carrier EE unveiled an ambitious new plan that would circumvent some of those challenges.  

EE’s plan involves a patent-pending balloon and drone-based system that would provide mobile coverage to rural customers. Instead of building towers, mini-mobile sites would be attached to the helium balloons and drones to provide 4G mobile coverage.

EE already offers the largest 4G coverage in the United Kingdom, but this plan would allow the company to expand further without the massive time and financial investment of building new infrastructure. 

“We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the U.K.,” EE CEO Marc Allera explained in a press release. 

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 U.K. 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 implications for such a service are far-reaching. Beyond providing service to customers, these drones and balloons will also be useful in search-and-rescue operations, providing first responders with coverage in areas they might previously have been limited to using radios in. Also, if you’ve ever been at a large outdoor event like a festival, you know how quickly a mass of people can destroy cell coverage. This method might improve the coverage in target areas of mass congestion.

In addition to the balloons and drones, EE will also be rolling out special Mitsubishi trucks that feature 11-foot mobile masts that can follow emergency services vehicles to incident sites to help ensure coverage. You can view a video by EE on the project below.

H/T Digital Trends

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*First Published: Feb 23, 2017, 8:33 am CST