Trials in England recently demonstrated that blimps can deliver wireless broadband up to 200 times faster than an ordinary wired broadband connection.
The test, conducted under the Project Capanina, is studying wireless and optical broadband technologies from high-altitude platforms (HAPs).
A typical airship floating at an altitude of 20 km may operate in the 31/28 GHz band. According to project contact Alan Gobbi, stratospheric broadband fills the gap between satellite and terrestrial wireless technologies. Place airships fitted with these communications technologies every 60 km, in a grid configuration, and you would have complete coverage of everywhere on the ground. You could offer everything from mobile phone calls to high-definition TV.
The project s target data rate is 120 Mbits/sec. In the trial, the partners even achieved 270 Mbits/sec using a free-space optical link.
Two more HAP trials are planned. In August 2005, an untethered balloon will be flown in the lower end of the stratosphere over Sweden, testing HAP performance in extreme cold and the effect of a balloon movement. In the summer of 2006, the partners will team up with the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology of Japan for a global HAP trial involving solar-powered unmanned aircraft.
In the United States, the Sanswire demonstrated their Stratellite earlier this month. Designed to fly in the stratosphere 13 miles (21 km) above the earth, it would send broadband and mobile phone signals to an area the size of Texas.
The Marines are also using aerostats as communications relays in Iraq. The Army already has a pair of aerostats in Iraq, looking out for insurgents.