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York-based telecoms outfit SkyLINC wants to build a network of base stations in balloons, tethered 1.5km high, as a platform for delivering broadband to rural communities.

SkyLINC's LIBRA (Low-Cost Integrated Broadband Radio Access) platform could be used to provide symmetrical broadband connections of 1Mbps and above to the vast majority of UK small businesses from a network of 18 helium-filed balloons. The balloons are held stationary by a tether. A fibre optic cable is used to transmit signals between a base station and an antennae in the balloon (more properly called aerostats). Although the idea sounds a bit odd at first, the US government has been using similar technology for decades.

Each LIBRA super-cell could have coverage of 2,000 sq miles and be capable of supporting 30,000 subscribers each, according to SkyLINC. Service from the balloons could be offered to an estimated 87 per cent of UK SME business locations, it says.

"End users will use a wireless radio link to the elevated platform via a receiver dish similar in size to a digital TV dish," the company explains.

Technical trials of the technology last September went well and the company is predicting it will be able to launch its first services in January 2004. This seems a very ambitious target.

SkyLINC hasn't said anything about pricing, up till now at least.

The BBC reports that the aerostats will be able to withstand the rigours of the British climate. Licenses for the aerostats are granted by the Aviation Authority. SkyLinc currently has two approved sites in Yorkshire, the BBC reports. ®

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