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The Collective
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via CNN: Wireless robots may float above the Earth

Jones believes his solar-powered, helium-filled Stratellites _ so named because they would hang in the stratosphere — could replace unsightly cell towers and cost less than satellites. Because of the airship’s altitude according to Jones, its radio equipment can cover an area the size of Texas.

Cell towers are hampered by line-of-sight limitations and limited range. Geostationary satellites suffer from the quarter-second it takes a signal to travel out 22,300 miles and back — insignificant in one-way TV transmissions, but terrible for two-way Internet computer communications.

Jones said his floating platforms will carry radio equipment that uses both licensed and unlicensed airwaves. The company will license spectrum if required and also work with companies that already have licenses, he said.

While Jones dreams of covering whole states with wireless services, Arizona-based Space Data thinks it can fill a cellular void by floating weather balloons in the stratosphere that would bring coverage to remote regions.

Space Data plans to test fly a balloon next month over a remote part of North Dakota to demonstrate the technology. The company, which is negotiating with several unidentified cell phone providers, could launch its first commercial balloon as early as next year over west Texas.

“Someday, you can just get a plan from your cell phone provider and you won’t even know if you’re on the balloon or if you’re on the tower,” said Chief Executive Jerry Knoblach. “You’ll just talk but you’ll have coverage even from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”

But questions abound about the durability of dirigibles. No vehicle has ever stayed in the stratosphere — located above the jet stream where clouds rarely form and where temperatures hover around freezing — for months at a time. It’s unclear how the environment would affect a dirigible.


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