EE CEO Marc Allera (pictured) spoke of the operator’s long-term desire to provide “on demand coverage” for its customers, as it unveiled new balloon drone technology designed to provide 4G connectivity in disaster hit and under served areas of the UK.

Allera, speaking at an EE technology showcase in London, said connecting rural Britain was one of its biggest challenges, and it was now “vital” to bridge the connectivity gap.

Today, the company showed how its patent pending helium balloons, a “Helikite”, which come equipped with mobile mini sites, are able to provide wide area 4G coverage where permanent sites have either been damaged or there is no 4G coverage.

It also showcased the use of drones, each including a base station and antenna, which can also be used to provide targeted coverage.

Allera noted while rural areas of the UK are less attractive because there are naturally less customers, hence lower returns, the operator was becoming increasingly “obsessed” with addressing coverage gaps.

“We cover 75 per cent of the UK geography, and 15,000 of our 18,000 sites nationwide have been upgraded to 4G,” he said. “There are just 10 towns with a population of 10,000 people where we don’t cover with 90 per cent of our geographic coverage. But we are coming.”

Coverage on demand
The CEO revealed plans to deploy a balloon solution within a rural environment this year, with aims to use aerial solutions to provide additional coverage and capacity in three years. This forms part of the operator’s long-term desires around providing coverage on demand.

“Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionising the way people connect. In the future, why couldn’t we offer what we’re calling ‘coverage on demand’?”, he said. “What if an event organiser could request temporary EE capacity in a rural area.”

ESN “on track”
Providing an update on the company’s ongoing work around the UK’s new Emergency Services Network, EE said it will deploy a fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles in “the coming weeks and months” to support the infrastructure.

It will use these in specific locations to keep the service live during local site outages and when carrying out maintenance work.

Questions have been raised about the progress of the network, but Allera said EE “was on track” with its obligations.

He also said the company was doing everything it needed to do to provide information on sites where it is deploying the network, following criticism by rival Vodafone over its handling of the project.