Feeds

We have lift-off! The solar broadband airplane

Isn't technology great

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Top three mobile application threats

By 2005, people could be receiving mobile phone services, broadband connections and even digital TV from solar-powered airplanes that fly at 65,000 feet.

This week, US company SkyTower, a subsidiary of AeroVironment, said it had successfully performed a series of tests in Hawaii of its new technology, a communications airplane called Pathfinder-Plus.

Solar/Electric Plane Network Model

Working with NASA and the Japanese Ministry of Telecommunications, SkyTower said it had launched the plane, which climbed to 65,000 feet above Kauai, Hawaii, and transmitted several hours of 3G mobile voice, data and video service to the ground, where it was received on an NTT DoCoMo 3G handset. Data was transmitted at 384 kbps during the test.

Pathfinder-Plus, with its 121-foot wingspan, is no ordinary airplane. The vehicle is unmanned and runs on solar power, which means it needs to land at night. But the company claims that advances in battery technology could give the airplane the ability to stay airborne 24 hours a day, allowing it to fly for six months at a time. The airplane also has a tight turning radius, which in conjunction with low-cost, stationary user antennas, makes the plane appears geostationary from the ground.

"The airborne platform, operating above the weather and commercial air traffic, is equivalent to a 12-mile-tall tower, which means significant advantages to telecom service providers and broadcasters," said Stuart Hindle, vice president of strategy and business development, SkyTower.

Indeed telecoms in Europe and elsewhere have spent billions rolling out 2.5G and 3G platforms over the last few years, but SkyTower claims it could dramatically cut those costs. "Given the amount of money that wireless service providers have spent on spectrum licences for both fixed and mobile applications, these SkyTower tests should be of great interest," Hindle said. "Imagine launching a single platform, having instant metropolitan-wide market coverage, and eliminating the terrestrial costs associated with tower build-outs and backhaul."

During the test flight, the company also successfully tested digital high definition television broadcasts from its stratospheric transmitter. And the company pointed out that because of its much higher "look angle," SkyTower platforms can fill in "urban canyons," or areas currently missed by terrestrial and satellite broadcast transmissions due to tall buildings or terrain.

Furthermore, during the tests, a 24 mbps data rate was achieved using only 1 watt of power -- less than 1/10,000 the power used by a typical terrestrial broadcast transmitter that has to overcome buildings, trees and other obstructions to cover the same area.

With funding from the Japanese Ministry of Telecommunications, a consortium of Japanese manufacturers including NEC and Toshiba developed the communication systems carried by Pathfinder-Plus for the HDTV and IMT-2000 testing. Fuji Heavy Industries integrated the payloads for the company's flights.

Interestingly, telecoms are probably not the only ones who would be attracted to SkyTower's product. "In addition to commercial interest in SkyTower's telecommunication infrastructure, there is strong and growing government interest in AeroVironment's UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), especially given the current defence needs," said Tim Conver, AeroVironment's chief executive. "Government interest ranges from broadband battlefield communications to emergency backup telecom services."

In September, NASA will be sponsoring an agricultural remote sensing mission, using the Pathfinder Plus aircraft equipped with multi-spectral imaging equipment to conduct several studies, including demonstrating how crop yields could be optimised by identifying factors such as the optimal time to harvest, required changes in irrigation levels and outbreak of crop disease.

The company claims that it could launch the airplane on a commercial basis by 2005 but did not say which companies it is working with.

© ENN.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
A black box for your SUITCASE: Now your lost luggage can phone home – quite literally
Breakfast in London, lunch in NYC, and your clothes in Peru
Broadband Secretary of SHEEP sensationally quits Cabinet
Maria Miller finally resigns over expenses row
Skype pimps pro-level broadcast service
Playing Cat and Mouse with the media
EE dismisses DATA-BURNING glitch with Orange Mail app
Bug quietly slurps PAYG credit - yet EE denies it exists
Like Google, Comcast might roll its own mobile voice network
Says anything's possible if regulators approve merger with Time Warner
Turnbull leaves Australia's broadband blackspots in the dark
New Statement of Expectations to NBN Co offers get-out clauses for blackspot builds
Facebook claims 100 MEEELLION active users in India
Who needs China when you've got the next billion in your sights?
Facebook splats in-app chat, whacks brats into crack yakety-yak app
Jibber-jabbering addicts turfed out just as Zuck warned
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.