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Whatever happened to broadband by blimp?

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

SkyLINC predicted it would launch services this month (January 2004).

So where are SkyLINC's broadband blimps? How are its plans progressing? Company executives aren't prepared to take questions on this; they simply say the company wants to wholesale high-speed telecoms access through ISPs.

SkyLINC is a partner in an ambitious €5.6m project into building High Altitude Platforms (HAPs), airships or solar-powered aircraft, which are permanently located in the skies at an altitude of 20 kilometres, for the delivery of Net access at speeds of up to 100Mbps. The Capanina research project, targeted at providing high speed Net access to rural areas, is been led by The University of York and backed by the European Union's Framework Six programmr.

Capanina is something for the future and complementary to SkyLINC's own services, Neil Daly, chief executive at SkyLINC, told The Register.

Daly, and other SkyLINC execs, declined our requests to explain its current services line-up or future plans. It was a different story last May when the company was only too happy to chat to El Reg, The Guardian and BBC, among other outlets.

From SkyLINC's Web site we find a statement that the company will launch its first LIBRA (Low-Cost Integrated Broadband Radio Access) communications platform "within the next 12 months".

SkyLINC's LIBRA 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 first users of this system will be online during the second quarter of 2004," SkyLINC states in its FAQ here.

Since SkyLINC first floated its plans in public the competitive landscape has changed with wireless broadband and community schemes for remote rural places becoming increasingly commonplace.

Against this, each LIBRA super-cell could have coverage of 2,000 sq miles and be capable of supporting 30,000 subscribers each, according to SkyLINC.

SkyLINC's basic concept is sound, but it's up in the air whether it will be able to establish it successfully as a business. ®

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