Nokia and EE - pushing the limits of technology with drones
Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, seem to be everywhere these days, not least in my local consumer electronics store, where falling prices and maturing technology have put them within reach of many more people. From getting that unique shot for a TV film, to investigating storm damage on your roof and now potentially delivering packages right to your door, they have dozens of uses.
But what about the mobile communications industry? Can we use drones’ unique abilities to access hard-to-reach areas to enhance mobile networks or to create additional or replacement coverage in a crisis?
A first of its kind demo in Scotland this summer showed what can be achieved. The trial, conducted by EE and Nokia, used a drone to carry a tiny base station to remote areas around Inverness. Weighing in at only 2 kg, the Nokia Flexi Zone Pico cell has all the punch of LTE in a very compact package, allowing 4G services to be provided wherever a drone can reach.
The tests showed that with the help of the drone, mobile coverage can be established very quickly over ranges of several kilometres. High quality LTE voice calls between responders, video streaming and up to 150 Mbps data throughput were all achieved, with no need for a connection to an external core network.
If integration to an existing core is needed, Nokia has also tested the backhaul of a standard small cell with the EE core via satellite. What’s more, the solution makes use of the recently launched Ultra Compact Network, a deployable system which combines a small cell with an embedded LTE core network resulting in a very compact and flexible solution.
Need temporary 4G coverage?
This creates a whole new dimension for network operators, allowing them to provide temporary 4G coverage in underserved areas or to quickly expand capacity at large events.
When I spoke to Mansoor Hanif, Director of Radio Access Network at EE, he was very enthusiastic about the possibilities, saying that drones, combined with innovations in base station technology, have the potential to bring 4G to even the most remote areas. He is keen for EE to work with Nokia to evaluate alternative 4G coverage deployment methods around the UK.
In a world where even mobile base stations are mobile, the possibilities for coverage are now surely endless.
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