Mobile operator EE has committed to connecting more than 1,500 rural communities within three years, by investing in a micro network technology that provides coverage to remote areas with no need for broadband or cables.

Starting in early 2015, EE will be making voice services and 3G and 4G mobile data coverage available in communities that currently don’t have reliable mobile or high speed broadband. These areas have remained unconnected by traditional approaches to network deployment that have relied on building large masts.

Paul Graham installs the first EE micro network site in Sebergham, Cumbria. Image credit: EE
Paul Graham installs the first EE micro network site in Sebergham, Cumbria. Image credit: EE

To cover these communities, EE will build new micro networks that wirelessly connect small mobile antennas to a suitable nearby macro site, without the need for cabling, dramatically improving the economics of connecting hard to reach areas.

The first community to be connected through trials of the new micro network technology is the small village of Sebergham, in Cumbria. Sebergham has 129 dwellings and 347 residents, and sits in a deep valley.

Cumbria County Councillor Duncan Fairbairn, said: “The mobile service here is either non-existent or spasmodic at best. And the broadband is incredibly slow and very unreliable. In rural communities like Sebergham, being connected to good, reliable mobile coverage can make a significant difference to everyday life and we need fast broadband."

He said: "There are more villages in my parish that I know will benefit hugely from this, and they’re excited to be connected next.”

Unlike other solutions, the EE rural micro network offering does not need any fixed broadband to connect into the wider network, meaning it can be deployed in more remote areas.

The micro network can connect communities of around 100-150 homes and businesses, across an area of 0.5 square miles with just three or four small antennas. An antenna can be installed on to any building in just a few hours, and planning applications are not required.

The low impact solution is based on technology designed by Parallel Wireless, and will be in full deployment in early 2015.

Rural areas can be covered at lower cost by using smaller mobile sites that communicate with each other to spread coverage and capacity, and using wireless technology instead of cables to connect into the main EE network.

While wider geographical coverage improvements still require continued investment in the traditional macro network, this technology enables more targeted voice and data coverage for small communities.

EE said the 1,500 deployments across the UK were currently being chosen, and would be completed by 2017.