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US communications outfit Sanswire yesterday unveiled concrete evidence of its truly audacious plan to deliver line-of-sight wireless broadband and mobile phone signals to an area the size of Texas from a single transmission point. The company is not, however, planning a private satellite launch or 10,000-foot-high transmission mast disguised as a really big tree - rather it intends to deploy a fleet of geostationary, robotic airships hovering at a comfortable 65,000 feet above the Earth.
The makers reckon the "Stratellite" will "change the way you communicate", according to Sanswire parent GlobeTel Communications Corp supremo Leigh Coleman. He explained to Reuters: "We're shooting for satellite replacement at a lower cost."
Indeed, the 245-foot-long beast costs around $25-35m a pop - an absolute snip when compared to putting a coms satellite into orbit. It's controlled by ground-based stations and relies on six GPS units coupled to the vehicle's electric motors to make sure it stays put and you signal stays nice and crisp.
What makes 21st Century's airships unique is their orb-like shape. Unlike conventional, cigar-shaped blimps that must make wide turns to reposition when they veer off target, the Canadian firm's spheres use GPS detectors and propulsion engines to keep each floating station locked at desired coordinates. A well-known stratosphere-based wireless service provider that was established in 1997, SkyStation, uses cigar-shaped airships.
Techsphere CEO Keith Vierela believes stratosphere-based networks combine the strengths of terrestrial networks -- higher bandwidth, lower power requirements and proximity to users -- with those of satellite networks, which have wide coverage areas and unobstructed paths between transmitters in the sky and receivers on Earth.