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EE Balloon-Powered Helikite Delivers 4G & Wi-Fi To Snowdonia Biking Event

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 says Helikite test shows potential for on-demand 4G coverage in remote areas or during natural disasters

EE has deployed its balloon-powered air mast technology for the first time in a live setting, using the ‘Helikite’ to deliver 4G and Wi-Fi to competitors and spectators at a mountain biking event in Wales. 

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.) 

EE Helikite (1)

EE Helikite 

It was flown 300 feet above Snowdonia to connect 200 riders and hundreds of fans during the Red Bull Foxhunt, an all-female downhill race, last weekend in what is being described as a “world first”. 

EE claims this is proof that its system can be used to deliver ‘on demand’ cellular coverage in areas where it is difficult for conventional technology to reach, or in areas affected by bad weather or natural disasters. 

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“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.  

“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.” 

The Helikite could provide back up to the 4G-powered Emergency Services Network (ESN) due to go live in 2019 and could eventually be equipped so it is multi-operator, allowing customers from O2, Vodafone and Three to retain coverage in a disaster. 

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