British mobile carrier EE has revealed that it plans to use a fleet of drones and miniature blimps to supply cell phone coverage across rural areas of the UK. According to the company, its “air mast” network could potentially be used in the aftermath of natural disasters, as well as come in handy during sports events, where crowds can congest and subsequently jam mobile networks. The BT-owned company is slated to deploy the technology in the field for the first time this year.

Much akin to Facebook’s drones and Google’s balloons, the basic principle is using airborne craft to beam signal down to users below. The blimps and drones are kitted out with miniature mobile sites, which include a base station and antenna, and supply LTE coverage (or 4G, as it is called in the UK). The blimps hover at a height of roughly 150 feet and can cover an area 4 kilometers wide. The drones are more of a temporary measure and can provide coverage over an area with a width of 2 kilometers for a few hours at a stretch.

In another vein, these blimps and drones also lend a PR-friendly face for EE’s management of the UK’s Emergency Services Network or ESN. This is a comms network dedicated to emergency services. However, EE does ntot plan to use its drones or blimps for this, but a fleet of 32 “rapid response vehicles” — Mitsubishi trucks retrofitted with 11-foot mobile masts.

These will be tailor-made for emergency situations, or when networks are down due to maintenance, which is when the trucks will be deployed to make sure that the police, fire service, and ambulances never lose signal.In a press statement, EE CEO Marc Allera said technology like this would “revolutionize the way people connect.” He continued:

“We’re developing the concept of ‘coverage on demand’. What if an event organizer could request a temporary EE capacity increase in a rural area, or a climber going up Ben Nevis could order an EE aerial coverage solution to follow them as they climb?”

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