The world’s first commercial Helikite “air mast” took flight over the weekend, providing 4G coverage for hundreds of users in rural Wales. EE’s Helikite air mast is designed to provide temporary data coverage for remote but densely populated events like music festivals, and for emergencies when the availability of distributed communications can mean the difference between life and death. EE’s approach is similar to Alphabet’s Project Loon, which recently received FCC approval to deliver LTE signal via balloon to Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
UK mobile network EE flew its Helikite 300 feet above a Red Bull mountain biking event in Machynlleth, on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. The Helikite was used to boost 4G coverage and capacity for the event, which connected over 200 bike riders along with hundreds of spectators. Download speeds reached a top of 175 Mbps, and an upload speed of up to 45 Mbps at the site (higher than the test-speed image), an EE spokesperson confirmed to The Verge by phone. The balloon can be completely inflated and launched within 50 minutes and can stay airborne for weeks at a time.