Airship Communications: High Flyer or Pie-in-the-Sky?

By Wi-Fi Planet Staff

December 20, 2006

In the coming months, Sanswire Networks and GlobeTel plan to launch a fleet of airships above the earth to provide broadband and cell service. The launch could give a whole new meaning to "down time."

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's Stratellite!

It hovers nearly 13-miles above the earth, looks like an updated version of the ill-fated Hindenburg, and, reportedly, can provide high-speed internet access, video and cell phone service to an area roughly the size of Texas. The creators call it a Stratellite—a cross between a satellite and a ridge-frame blimp or dirigibles.

The folks at Sanswire Networks and GlobeTel, who are behind the project, are quick to say it is, "not a blimp!" but an airship.

The difference is that a blimp is basically a gas-filled bag with a gondola attached to the underside. The Stratellite also has a gondola, but its frame is rigid—sort of an updated version of the airships or dirigibles that plied the skies in the early part of the 20th century. The German airship Hindenburg, which exploded spectacularly over Lakeshurst, New Jersey ("Oh, the humanity!"), was the most famous of those ships which carried passengers to and from the U.S. and Europe.

Instead of carrying passengers, these new ships will carry communications equipment that can provide broadband and cell phone service to tens of thousands of customers.

"A Stratellite is conceived as an autonomous communications and surveillance platform that will park at a specific location in the stratosphere approximately 13 miles up," said Douglas Murch, a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel, who is heading the project. "At this altitude, the Stratellite provides an extensive footprint of coverage, approximately 126,000 square miles, and brings immediate communication connectivity to areas that have no ground infrastructure."

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