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‘Pre-5G’ Backhaul Powers Inflatable EE 4G Air Masts For Disaster Zones And Rural Areas

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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EE makes use of 5G backhaul for inflatable ‘helikite’ that will aid emergency services and spread rural 4G

EE is using pre-5G powered backhaul to power an inflatable air mast called ‘a Helikite’ to deliver 4G connectivity to areas affected by bad weather, natural disasters or poor general connectivity.

The Helikite is a helium balloon equipped with mini mobile antennas linked to a ‘network in a box’ on the ground via 26GHz millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum.

This allows for high capacity and low latency, enabling applications like push to talk and providing real world speeds of 65Mbps (although this could increase with different backhaul.)

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Such frequencies will be a key characteristic of 5G, which is set to be standardised next year, but the use of pre-5G technology is a Europe first, the network claims.

EE is tasked with the delivery of the LTE-powered Emergency Services Network (ESN) by 2019 and plans to bring geographic 4G coverage to 95 percent of the UK population.

The use of Helikite will help provide emergency services with coverage in areas hit by disaster and because it is a ‘meshed’ technology, several air masts can be linked together, spreading coverage.

“Our mission is to provide 4G to the UK,” said EE CEO Marc Allera at BT’s Innovation Day at Adastral Park in Suffolk. “But one of the [big] challenges is remote rural areas and [the need to] provide back up to the ESN.”

“We want to be where customers need us most,” added Massor Hanif. “It can be set up quickly and provide wide area coverage.”

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The Helikite could eventually be equipped so it is multi-operator, allowing customers from O2, Vodafone and Three to retain coverage in a disaster.

“Our mission is not just to save our own customers but many others,” added Hassan. “We believe it’s the first time in Europe that anyone is showing pre 5G-tech for this purpose.”

Vodafone, through its charitable Foundation, has provided network in a backpack and network in a box technology to parts of the world hit by disasters, such as the earthquake in Nepal in what year.

Supporters of 5G say that although the new standard will allow for speeds of 1Gbps, this is not the main selling point. Other features include high capacity, low latency and the ability to ‘slice’ certain parts of the network into virtual networks that guarantee performance.

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