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A new international €5.6m project aims to make Broadband internet available to remote rural areas and even moving trains by using airships, the University of York (UK) announced yesterday.

Scientists will build High Altitude Platforms (HAPs): airships or solar-powered aircraft, which are permanently located in the skies at an altitude of 20 kilometers, above aero planes but below satellites (images here). The project will deliver broadband connections which are 2,000 times faster than by a traditional modem and 200 times faster than ‘wired’ ADSL broadband.

The solution will be cheaper and more efficient than current technologies, the scientists claim. High Altitude Platforms do not require cabling or masts - which can be both expensive and inconvenient - to deliver broadband.

"The opportunities offered by HAPs are exciting," said David Grace, the project’s Principal Scientific Officer, in a statement yesterday. "Demand for fast communication is increasing all over the world, and this technology offers a unique way of delivering broadband inexpensively to people wherever they are."

The University of York leads the project, known as Capanina, after the restaurant in Italy where initial discussions were held. Researchers in York will investigate the most effective way to operate wireless communication links via HAPs, including fast propagation and resource management, including steerable antennas which will use the latest digital signal processing.

The first objective of the Capanina project is to deliver high-speed broadband connections to rural areas across Europe. The team hopes to achieve this in the next four years. Ultimately, it will look at delivering broadband to moving trains. This will involve smart antenna systems, which link with access points on the train. Passengers can connect through ordinary Wi-Fi enabled laptops.

Last year, York-based telecoms firm SkyLINC announced it was to build a network of base stations in balloons, tethered 1.5km high, as a platform for delivering broadband to rural communities. ®

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