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EE announces plans to use balloons and drones to boost rural connectivity

EE has outlined plans to use helium balloons and drones to deliver mobile and online services.22 Feb 2017

The company said its "'air mast' solutions" could help people in rural areas of the UK connect to their internet, as well as provide connectivity to communities and search and rescue teams in "disaster recovery" situations, such as major flooding incidents.

EE chief executive Marc Allera also said that, in future, the 'air mast' balloons or drones could be deployed to deliver temporary connectivity to support major events.

"Innovation is essential for us to go further than we’ve ever gone, and deliver a network that’s more reliable than ever before," Allera said. "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. We're developing the concept of '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," he said.

EE said it is seeking patent protection for its technology. It said it had worked in partnership with a number of companies, including Nokia, Parallel Wireless, Avanti, VoltServer, uVue and Allsopp Helikites, to develop the air mast solutions.

Alphabet, the company behind Google, and Facebook, are among the other technology companies working on delivering internet connectivity from the air.