EE uses pre-5G backhaul tech to support ‘Helikite’ in remote areas

EE balloon (Parallel Wireless)
EE's Helikite solution uses mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon to provide 4G coverage. Image: Parallel Wireless

In a situation where an operator is not claiming to be doing 5G, EE says it is the first UK service provider to successfully demonstrate pre-standard 5G backhaul technology using its patent-pending “air mast” 4G technology.

EE earlier this year demonstrated how it can use a balloon and drone air masts to connect remote parts of the UK and keep communities online in the wake of disasters such as major flooding. The operator plans to use mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon—which it calls a “Helikite”—to provide wide area 4G mobile coverage where permanent sites have been damaged or in areas where there is no 4G coverage.

This week, the operator used 26 GHz test spectrum as part of the demonstration during BT’s Adastral Park Innovation Week. The mobile backhaul solution included a Parallel Wireless small cell on the Helikite communicating with an Athonet virtualized Evolved Packet Core (EPC) on the ground using a Phazr link.

RELATED: Verizon seeks OK to test Phazr gear at 28, 39 GHz in Texas

The addition of pre-5G backhaul increases 4G speeds and lowers latency, which increases the number of people that the air mast could keep connected and gives them a faster internet connection, the operator said. The June 12 demonstration was an example of the potential applications and customer benefits of BT and EE’s 5G research activities, which are progressing well ahead of the deployment of future 5G networks.

“This is not 5G, but it is a technology that’s an important stepping stone to 5G,” said EE CEO Marc Allera in a press release. “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.”

Considering how the term “5G” has been bandied about by various vendors and operators around the world, it’s worth noting EE isn’t calling this 5G.

AT&T caused a bit of an uproar back in April when it announced it will offer “5G Evolution internet speeds” in 20 major metro areas by the end of this year. It was AT&T’s use of the 5G brand that sparked a range of reactions from journalists, analysts and wireless executives. Of course, AT&T defended its use of the label, noting that 5G Evolution lays the foundation for 5G while the standards are being finalized.

EE and BT Labs said they're also working on millimeter wave, Massive MIMO and network slicing, a new method of carving out specific “slices” of an IP-based network to support dedicated services delivered over future 5G networks. Their work is designed to align with standards that will be set by 3GPP as part of the Release 15 update, which is scheduled for 2018.