Tests in Europe of a "High Altitude Platform" broadband router have successfully demonstrated the ability to provide a high-speed wireless connection over a wide area from the air. The Europe-wide Capanina project, led by the University of York, operated a wireless-Internet-equipped balloon at an altitude of 24 kilometers over Sweden this week, according to the BBC. The goal of the project is to provide wireless coverage of a region 60 kilometers square at a speed of 120 Mbps; the project team say that they should be able to do this in less than five years.
Such a system would be of particular utility in areas where terrain makes pulling wires or even installing enough wireless towers too costly. Because the cost of a HAP wireless system would be significantly lower than a satellite link, this model should be of great use in the developing world. At the same time, the ability to launch a balloon-based router relatively quickly -- potentially even releasing it from an airplane -- would be valuable during post-disaster response operations.
(Thanks for the pointer, Lorenzo!)
According to one comment in the press release, that would be an area 60km across- assuming a circle, that should be in excess of 2700 sq. km. Unfortunately, both the article and the press release don't specify the units.
It's about time we had these... even if one can only cover 60 sq. km, it's probably already vastly more cost effective than using fiber.
The article mentions data links of up to 60 km.
An area of 60 sq km equates to a circle of radius ~ 4km: easily covered by a standard tower.
In contrast, a balloon at 24km altitude actually has a horizon of over 500 km. Within that range, the limiting factor becomes signal strength. Given that they reported almost no transmission errors, I don't think they really pushed the envelope.