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EE Plots Drones to Blanket UK for 4G

Dan Jones

Communications drones could be flying over England's green and pleasant land in years to come if mobile operator EE has its way.

EE said that it plans to use what it calls "air masts" in its "Signalling The Future" manifesto, which lays out the UK mobile operator's $2.3 billion plans to extend its 4G LTE coverage to 99% of the UK population by 2017. (See Eurobites: EE Invests in Rural 4G Rollout.)

The operator could use tethered ballons or drones to add rural coverage at lower costs than deploying cell towers. The operator describes the air masts as "essentially aerial small cells positioned in the sky above a hard-to-reach areas."

Watching the skies? Keep up with our drone coverage on the IoT channel on Light Reading.

EE is one of the first service providers to go public with future coverage plans centered around unmanned vehicles. Such blue-sky thinking has so far been the domain of tech giants like Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). (See Forget the Internet, Brace for Skynet and Facebook, Google in New Drone Race.)

However, Australian operator Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) is helping Google with its "Project Loon," which aims to deliver Internet from the sky via balloons. (See Bell Labs Chief Slams 'Toy' Networks and The New Internet Space Race: Google's Final Frontier?.)

Of course, we don't know how these plans might change if and when BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) completes its $19.1 billion buyout of EE. (See BT Locks Down £12.5B EE Takeover Deal.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/13/2015 | 5:06:47 AM
Re: Could the UK get comms drones before the USA?
Wind power? Rain power?

Britain is quite windy and very rainy
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/13/2015 | 12:31:45 AM
Re: Could the UK get comms drones before the USA?
How to they get realiable power on a cloudy day?  Or stay in place during a strong storm?
R Clark
R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
2/12/2015 | 10:04:54 PM
Re: Could the UK get comms drones before the USA?
I'm a touch sceptical because of the timing (as the regulator eyes the BT-EE deal) and it hasn't yet got to field trial stage.  EE leaked some details but doesn't actually make any reference to drones or floating masts in its manifesto released earlier this week.

But it's still interesting they're talking about drones in the first place. I  think it more likely they will be deployed first in small pockets of rural UK than in the expanses of remote US or Australia.



User Rank: Blogger
2/12/2015 | 5:32:58 PM
Could the UK get comms drones before the USA?
What do you think, could the UK get coverage drones before the USA?
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