EE has become the first UK mobile operator to demonstrate pre–5G backhaul technology using its unique Helikite ‘air mast’ solution.
Helikite is the name of EE’s existing balloon-based mobile coverage system, which was initially designed to supply rural communities with 4G connectivity. It’s also intended to be used during disaster recovery and search and rescue scenarios.
It works by attaching mini mobile sites to a helium balloon, thus providing 4G mobile coverage over a wide area where no masts exist - or where existing masts have been damaged. EE has also successfully experimented with using drones for a more targeted approach.
Now EE has successfully fitted out this Helikite balloon with pre–5G network technology operating on millimetre wave (mmWave) frequencies in the 26GHz test spectrum. While not quite 5G-standard, the resulting improvement to speed and latency serves to increase the number of people that the air mast can keep connected, as well as boosting their mobile internet speeds.
As such, EE is viewing this demonstration as an important step towards 5G connectivity, which isn’t set to roll out to the public until 2020.
Marc Allera, EE CEO, said: "Innovation is what drives advances in technology, and it’s what keeps making UK consumers’ experience of mobile better and better. The EE network will go from strength to strength thanks to BT’s incredible R&D capabilities and our commitment to delivering what our customers need. Today’s demonstration is a great example of that: we know that we need better solutions to keep customers connected in the most rural parts of the UK and during disasters, and we can make that solution even more powerful by developing ground breaking pre-standard 5G technology.
“This is not 5G, but it is a technology that’s an important stepping stone to 5G. We’re working hard to adopt the principles and the technologies that will become 5G, and to showcase what benefits these can bring to our customers.”
Image credit: Ericsson