Should ensure coverage during disasters and remote locations
An EE heli-kite on display at the Oval cricket ground
EE has shown off drones, heli-kites and rapid response vehicles that can provide 4G in remote locations for the emergency services and customers during emergency situations such as floods, to ensure constant connectivity.
The technology was first revealed almost two years ago but was only at the test stage at the time. Since then EE has worked to turn the vehicles into viable systems and has patent pending on the innovations, although the technology powering the services is from other vendors, such as Nokia, Avanti and Uvue.
The heli-kite is perhaps the most impressive of the three pieces of kit that EE will be using. It hovers up to 300 feet in the air and can provide 4G coverage over a 4km circumference. It can be deployed in around an hour, and is tethered to the ground from a solid base.
The tether also provides power to the balloon, and interestingly this is delivered as digital power in the form of packets, lessening the danger if the tether should be cut while in use.
The drone is the fastest deployment option, at 15 minutes, although has a smaller range at 1km. EE said this would be ideal for short-term coverage, ideally for emergency services teams working in a remote area.
Finally, the rapid response vehicles (RRV) are vans fitted with antennas that can be deployed to quickly provide coverage over a 2km radius. This can be deployed in around 30 minutes and should be in use by the end of the year.
Image showing EE RRV with mast deployed to maximum height
EE has 32 in service and intends to deploy them to various locations around the country to ensure they can be on site and ready to offer connectivity within three hours of a request.
EE said it had seen speeds of between 40-50Mbps in tests of the various kit, saying this underlined how viable the technology can be for providing adequate coverage to the public and the emergency services.
EE acknowledged there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome in ensuring the services can be used as intended, but said it was confident it would have the technology live by the end of the year.
"It's just about clarifying that we can use this for airborne solution," said EE network chief Mansoor Hanif, discussing the heli-kite system.
While emergency services use is the key driver for the technology, EE also said it could be used for coverage at major events.
Dr Nigel Brown, lead for resilient ICT strategy for civil contingencies, secretariat at the Cabinet Office said the systems being developed would have major benefits to how the emergency services can deal with events.
He cited examples such as flooding at Boscastle in Cornwall in 2004 and the Greyrigg train crash as the types of events that would have benefited the emergency services if they had existed at the time.
"Something like this that could be deployed on sites of major incidents is really exciting, there are some obvious immediate advantages," he added.