Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Vendors Look to Balloons to Support Cell Services

TechNewsWorld reports on the use of ballons to improve cell coverage in remote areas. According to the article, "cell towers are expensive, however, costing from US$100,000 to more than $1 million to set up, and present logistical problems, such as clearing local regulations and finding suitable placement."

The article looks at the different approaches of two companies Extend America and Space Data that are "trying to alleviate such problems with cell towers supported by weather balloons stationed in the stratosphere." Allen Nogee at In-Stat/MDR said, "Because cell coverage is still not ubiquitous and can be difficult to deploy in some areas, there has been a lot of talk about new approaches, such as using weather balloons and airplanes to reach uncovered areas."

The article writes that the "two companies use standard weather balloons, which cost about $50 each, to carry special purpose cell towers, which are small (10 cubic inches) and light (less than 12 pounds). The balloons travel 20 miles above the earth, well above commercial airliner pathways. Because of their high flying position, the devices cover a larger area -- from 50 miles to 500 miles -- than traditional cell towers."

Neil Strothert NPD Group said,"Now that carriers have deployed cell stations throughout metropolitan areas, they are searching for ways to reach more remote locations, like Montana as well as camp sites."

Ira Brodsky at Datacomm Research said, "The biggest problem is keeping the cell tower aloft." The article notes the challenges and costs of using ballon-based cell towers, and states "the end result is that this approach represents an ongoing expense. Estimates are that a company would need to spend $100,000 to $300,000 annually to support this service."

In-Stat's Nogee pointed out that due to the expense, "this approach is expected to take root first in areas that are far off main highways or away from cities." He said, "The areas that still lack cell coverage are spread out and sparsely populated."