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EE expands 4G roll-out with satellite backhaul

EE signs communications provider Avanti to use satellite capacity for mobile backhaul on its 4G network at a number of sites in the UK

Mobile network operator (MNO) EE has awarded satellite communications services provider Avanti a multi-year contract to supply satellite capacity for mobile backhaul on its 4G network in remote parts of the UK.

Now part of the wider BT organisation, EE is on a mission to extend the geographic footprint of its 4G network from around 60% of the UK’s landmass today to 95% by 2020. It plans to build up to 750 sites to meet its goals.

Avanti will connect a number of these new sites to EE’s network using its HYLAS 1 and 2 satellites, providing communications in remote areas and, it said, greater network resilience.

The initial phase of the contract has a value of $29m (£20.1m), which will represent just over a third of Avanti’s full-year revenues. It also includes an option to double capacity.

“We are delivering a highly resilient, truly nationwide 4G network and Avanti will play a key part in providing resilience and extending this network into rural areas,” said EE director of radio access networks, Mansoor Hanif.

Avanti chief executive, David Williams, said the supplier’s HYLAS satellite fleet had been designed to offer levels of network quality and flexibility beyond what had been available before.

Emergency services network

At least part of the motivation behind signing up Avanti is to support not just EE’s mainstream commercial roll-out, but also the provisioning of the Emergency Services Network (ESN), for which EE controversially won the government contract in December 2015.

Under the terms of the ESN contract, EE has undertaken to provide an enhanced 4G network – shared with the general public yet segregated – for the use of the UK’s blue light services, which will be phased in 2017. It will replace an existing private radio network supplied by Airwave, now part of Motorola.

Up to 500 sites will be built as part of the ESN deal. As previously reported by Computer Weekly, EE has confirmed that it would implement satellite backhaul at more remote sites.

In a note to the stock market, Jefferies International analyst Giles Thorne said that cellular backhaul had long been touted as a critical application for high throughput capacity driven grown across the industry.

The fact that Avanti has secured a material deployment “with a household name” supported that view, he wrote.

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