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The Internet

Wi-Fi From The Sky 164

Makarand writes "Some companies think that the answer to providing ubiquitous broadband access is to have telecom gear float high in the sky. High-tech blimps, called Stratellites, could be used by ISPs to carry their telecom equipment as high as 13 miles, far above commercial air traffic and turbulent weather according to this article on ABC News. At this height the Stratellite could serve an area of around 300,000 sq miles. Subscribers will merely need to put a small antenna outside and get broadband. The Stratellites will be perfect spheres and carry all electronic equipment within the Kevlar fabric and will not have any external fins or gondolas attached. Companies are already developing Wi-Fi sytems that could operate over tens of miles and these systems could be used on these Stratellites."
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Wi-Fi From The Sky

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  • do I have to say it. Use birds.
    • by jcrb ( 187104 ) <jcrb&yahoo,com> on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:31AM (#4935932) Homepage
      Read the RFC [faqs.org] and they have one with QoS as well [faqs.org]
    • So, uh, what happens when they migrate south for the winter? You go back to dialup?
    • by FirstOne ( 193462 )
      Why not?.. you may ask..

      You can't make them stationary..
      Tie them to ground.. The tie down cable becomes an aviation hazard.
      Thirteen (13) mile long cables of any strength are somewhat heavy.

      Volume needed to lift ~10 pounds to 75,000 ft requires a balloon 30 to 40feet in diameter.

      Let them float, they get blown around (world) by the jet streams. (Lots of surface area * 100 m/s winds).
      Tendency to come down in unwanted places (Insurance companies nightmare).
      (I.E. High tension power lines, Expressways, Planes in flight, Tall buildings, etc.)

      Try to make them stationary under own power. Not!!
      Bigger == More surface area to catch wind == More engine/more weight == Never going to happen!!

      • by Spamalamadingdong ( 323207 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @05:19PM (#4937430) Homepage Journal
        You can't make them stationary....
        Let them float, they get blown around (world) by the jet streams. (Lots of surface area * 100 m/s winds).
        Yes you can. The jet streams are phenomena of the troposphere. The stratosphere, where these things would float, is stratified (thus the name) and has little wind.

        There was another company looking to piggy-back on the National Weather Service's twice-daily balloon sounding probes to provide cellular service in unserved areas. The latex balloons climb to extreme altitudes, and then often hang for 24 hours or more without moving much (according to the article) before bursting. If the relay balloons float at similar altitudes, they would require little power for stationkeeping.

        Tie them to ground.. The tie down cable becomes an aviation hazard.
        Big deal, you bar air traffic from the area. We may soon be doing the same to generate electricity, with tethers perhaps 3 miles long; check out gyromills [bbc.co.uk] for a jolt to your weltanschauüng.
        Volume needed to lift ~10 pounds to 75,000 ft requires a balloon 30 to 40feet in diameter.
        Have you looked at the balloons used to loft cosmic-ray, infrared and the cosmic-background radiation experiments [ucsb.edu] lately? Boomerang flew at 120,000 feet, thus requiring a balloon several times the volume required to loft a payload to a mere 65,000 feet. There is a lot of established expertise, and while this can't be considered a trivial exercise it isn't going to require much new work.
    • Nice idea. And if you don't like the performance, you can just barbecue it. Gives a whole new meaning to "packet loss".
  • by Brento ( 26177 ) <brento @ b r e n t o z a r.com> on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:10AM (#4935863) Homepage
    Does that mean I'll be able to get an 802.11b signal in a plane? That would pretty much eradicate the problems of installing internet gear in each plane - just put a little antenna up to the window and boom, you're surfin'.
  • Great. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xintegerx ( 557455 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:11AM (#4935864) Homepage
    A lot of people will now be able to listen to free music anywhere, via internet radio.

    There goes the RIAA. Also, this could cause us to lose our hearing of the sounds usually omitted from the tracks during MP3 encoding.

    And what about radio waves everywhere? And people instant messsaging each other non-stop?

    I know it's kind of scary and weird, but this future could all be possible in under five years. And once we get to wi-fi everywhere, there's no going back! And hackers will be able to DOS my toaster.

    I for one, hope this development takes time :)
    • by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @11:04AM (#4936026)
      To make this viable, they will need Phased Array Wi-Fi [slashdot.org] as covered here earlier. This will increase their range [vivato.net] to many miles. There is also a paper [216.239.37.100] about stationkeeping for a group of such balloons.

      Some more links on the story itself:

      • Phase array antennas may solve some of the problems, but a problem I see with WiFi or any other wireless tech that uses a contention based modulation scheme, is that the collision domain becomes so large with such great line of sight. The article claims they will be using WiFi gear, and at 13 miles, would be service 300,000 square miles of area. Assuming a best case scenario, what do you think the throughput is going to be like for a few thousand subscribers sharing a, nominally, 11Mbps link? =)
        • a problem I see with WiFi or any other wireless tech that uses a contention based modulation scheme, is that the collision domain becomes so large with such great line of sight.
          If you can throw antenna size or processing power at the problem, this can be solved.

          The collision domain is both temporal and angular. If the system has a single, omnidirectional antenna, your criticism is dead on-target; however, only fools would think about trying to do that, as even cellular towers are far more sophisticated. What the balloon would likely have is either a microwave lens antenna (or a large array of them) built into the balloon (you can make something with a very high refractive index at microwave frequences using a bit of aluminum foil in a very light plastic foam) or a completely synthetic aperture phased-array antenna. The former is probably heavier, the latter requires lots of DSPs - but if Iridium sats can do it, a balloon probably can. What the antennas do for you is to allow two transmitters separated by a sufficient angle to be heard separately and distinctly even if they are transmitting simultaneously; they do not collide any more than the images of two stars shining simultaneously have to collide on an astrophotograph unless they are very close together in angle.

      • not enough... do the math

        Strattelites are supposed to be 7.5 to 13 miles in the sky with a range of 5-10 miles (all the different press releases aren't so clear)... or about (root sum of the squares) 9-18 miles from the strat to the most distant point.

        phased-array only gets you 9 __KM__, or under 7 miles

        That, plus Sanswire has a bad reputation [sanswire.net] to overcome.
    • There goes the RIAA

      No. The RIAA still would legally hold the copyrights to the music.

      Also, this could cause us to lose our hearing of the sounds usually omitted from the tracks during MP3 encoding.

      No. Some idiot posting an idiot layman's rant [fh-hamburg.de] on slashdot [slashdot.org] does not make said idiot's hearing loss hypothesis true. (He also purports to be the "teachmaster" of the "first cyberage-religion". I think this alludes somewhat to his credibility.) The "researcher" himself admitted to rarely listening to lossily-encoded music, so why should his hearing problems be attributed to it? Especially when we have a sample size of several hundred thousand (slashdot itself) who are likely to listen regularly to lossily-encoded music, but have no signifigant hearing problems when looked at in aggregate.

      Recap:

      1. Copyrights do not disappear because of the ubiquity of piracy.
      2. Being posted on slashdot does not make a hypothesis true, or even credible.
      3. The parent comment is not particularly insightful. Please mod it back down accordingly.
  • by NeoSkandranon ( 515696 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:13AM (#4935870)
    Okay, so you cant use WiFi on a commercial flight because it has a possibility of jamming the aircraft's comms and tracking. Wonder what, if anything, will be the consequence of flying through medium-high (it has to have a bit of juice to reach 13 miles through clouds and whatnot, right?) intensity WiFi transmissions?
    • You can't use cell phones in flight not because it might interfere with the avionics of the airplane, but because it costs the cell phone companies too much money to have you hopping to a new tower every two seconds.

      If cell phones were really dangerous in ANY way to an airplane in flight, do you think they'd be allowed?
      • Do I have to say it?

        If box cutters were really dangerous in ANY way...

        lol, sorry, thats my weekly flamebait/troll/joke-i-found-funny-but-probably-ge ts-me-modded-down
      • If cell phones were really dangerous in ANY way to an airplane in flight, do you think they'd be allowed?

        The use of cell phones in flight is not allowed. It's not that they're known to be dangerous - it's that they're not known to be safe.

        The risk of introduction of small stray currents into the instrumentation used for flight is not worth it when there are 400 lives at stake. The last thing an airline pilot needs to worry about is whether the instrumentation that he carefully checked at a known point on the ground is now lying to him in the air because some bozo that is pissed because he didn't get the free upgrade is chatting on his cellphone in Row 39B.

        Testing could be done to determine the risk of cellphone use inflight - but it'd be expensive to test all the known configurations with various quantities of transmitters of various unkownn qualities in various positions throughout the flight, and it's a much more controlled situation to provide an alternate service using tested transmitters.

        Turn your cell phone off in an airliner and read a book for a few hours.

      • I thought the real reason cellphones were banned in airplanes was so the airlines could maintain their monopoly on air to ground communication via $20/minute phone service.
        • ... is so that cellphone providers can continue to operate, because otherwise one phone in an airplane would blank out its assigned frequency over huge swaths of the cellular network instead of just over the cell it's "in".

          This does suggest a nasty way to DoS an entire cellphone network. I hope nobody thinks of it... oops, too late!

    • The interference from a WiFi-equipped laptop one foot away from a signal cable passing through the plane is millions of times stronger than a stratospheric communication platform hovering a several miles above it.
    • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @03:52PM (#4937111) Homepage
      Okay, so you cant use WiFi on a commercial flight because it has a possibility of jamming the aircraft's comms and tracking. Wonder what, if anything, will be the consequence of flying through medium-high (it has to have a bit of juice to reach 13 miles through clouds and whatnot, right?) intensity WiFi transmissions?

      Absolutely nothing. The interference issue is way overblown, particularly for WiFi which uses the same frequency as the microwave ovens that are used regularly on board aircraft without problems.

      If there really was an issue with interference in aircraft the amount of stray electromagnetic radiation bouncing arround airports would have brought down plenty of planes already.

      It is possible to measure an effect on certain navigation gear in certain circumstances. But don't think that the regulations about not using RF devices have anything to do with making you safer, like the airport security they are there to 1) make you feel safe and 2) make it easier and more convenient for the cabin crew to prepare the aircraft for landing.

      Equally the complaints from the military about their radar have more to do with justifying a new round of apending on military boondogles than security. If a WiFi card can really take out US radar then hope that Saddam hasn't been reading slashdot or he might try to block US radar with a couple of hundred unshielded industrial microwave ovens... Remember that these complaints come from the same folk that are claiming SDI is ready for deployment on the basis of a string of failed tests and despite the fact that their own assesors believe that any country with the ability to build a ballistic missile has easily enough capability to build in countermeasures

      • Absolutely nothing. The interference issue is way overblown, particularly for WiFi which uses the same frequency as the microwave ovens that are used regularly on board aircraft without problems.

        You're telling me those microwave ovens arent shielded to keep radiation from escaping?
  • 68000ft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maroberts ( 15852 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:13AM (#4935871) Homepage Journal
    I would have thought there is some air movement up there, and it actaully has to get through the turbulent layer in the first place, so I presume it has some means of propulsion for station keeping....
    • I presume it has some means of propulsion for station keeping

      Yes, but their webpage is pretty short on details. [21stcenturyairships.com]

    • Weather observation ballons have been known to be tethered at decent altitudes. There's one 17 miles northeast of Key West, FL that floats 17000ft up, tied to a cable.

      Now, granted, 17000 !== 68000, but it is 1/4 of the distance... if they can make cabling strong enough for that, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they figure out some process to allow them to run even higher.

      These things are well published on aeronautical charts, so it's not like they're fired up randomly. "Fsck, where'd that come from?"
    • The last time Slash dot covered this I posted a link to the air ship list (I have some weird friends) I got this response

      I don't know if you were watching the list a couple weeks ago when a related
      press release came up.

      If you weren't--I said it was kind of neat and supplied a link to the
      Sanswire site so people could see pictures and read the data. A number of
      people thought it was a hyped lie, because 1) they've seen this hype and
      others before and 2) Sanswire claimed the hull is made of Kevlar. Kevlar
      (like all aramids) has problems being formed into any kind of cloth suitable
      for holding lift gas--see the experts for what they are, has to due with
      brittleness or something. If the problem were solved, it would be a big deal
      and the company that did it could do more than just launch a com craft.

      I've inquired with the company about what they are selling--can I buy an
      account at what price. I figured that puts them on the spot to give answers.

      All this was before Dec 11, the test date in Arizona. You see that post
      toward the end, by the guy who said he saw it there in AZ and heard someone
      claim it blew away?

      Of course it could be that it did go on an unscheduled flight but was
      brought down eventually. Or that could be pure embroidery.

      But Sanswire is less visible on the net. The "Stratellite" page is being
      reconstructed. As it might be after a successful test--or as it might be
      forever, after an unsuccessful one.

      I wrote the CEO, sounding nervous. We'll see what his flunkies say.

      Have you heard any more about it?

      The basic idea is perfectly great. Maybe not with a Kevlar hull, but if that
      wasn't a lie then they did make it fly after all. Well somebody's got to
      make the breakthrough someday.

      I thought all those Venetian blind things by the props were the solar panels
      but I went to the manufacturer's site and they were featured on other craft
      that weren't supposed to be solar powered. Maybe they are the radiators for
      the engines?

      As nobody at slashdot pointed out clearly, winds at high altitude may be
      fast but because the air is thin a strong enough engine on a
      well-streamlined enough hull can hope to overcome them. It would be about
      two scale heights, a seventh or so surface density--Roughly, take whatever
      speed the wind is blowing at 20 km up and divide it by three to get an idea
      of the equivalent sea level wind.

      > From: Christopher Blood
      > Reply-To: chris@sonictrout.com
      > Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 21:40:23 -0500
      > To: airship-list@lists.colorado.edu
      > Subject: Slashdot | Airships Tested As Two-Way Telecom Beacons
      >
      > Thought this was of interest. It's a good idea.
      > http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/12/17/001206 &mode=flat&tid=126&threshold
      > =1
      > d=1>
      >
      >

      .

    • Re:68000ft (Score:3, Informative)

      by MtViewGuy ( 197597 )
      I think for proper stationkeeping of these communications balloons they're going to have to fly them even higher--as high as 75,000 feet.

      There are two reasons for this: 1) the jet stream has strong winds even in the 60,000 feet range; and 2) some thunderstorms have cloudtops as high as 65,000 feet!
  • 300,000 sq mi? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Texas is about 268,000 sq mi.
  • by xintegerx ( 557455 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:18AM (#4935889) Homepage
    Forbes talked about their list of 85 world-changing ideas.

    Wi-Fi is coming up, and that will be the biggest world-changing things ever in the future. Imagine always being connected to everybody else in the world who you'd want to be connected to. How screwed up is that?

    Oh wait. Cell phones can do that. Damn. Oh well, it doesn't mean I'm going to let this post go waste! :) Why? Because Wi-Fi will do to cell phones what cable/dsl did to land-line dial-up. Man I was just imagining all levels of students using wi-fi tablets in school and that's kind of messed up....
    !
    • Visit my college. They are laptops, not tablets, but you get the idea. Its not that weird or far off either.
    • Because Wi-Fi will do to cell phones what cable/dsl did to land-line dial-up.

      Which is what... let people get porn a bit faster? Let people shop faster? You were right the first time. Cell phones were a life-changing technology. Broadband everywhere is just a luxury.
      • What about that Future World where all your appliances will be on the Internet? With wide-coverage WiFi, you'll be able to put your pants on the Internet! (If your pants are already on the Internet, I don't want to know, okay? I don't need that much life-changing this morning.)

        It's still too early to tell much impact universal broadband will have.

  • It could be a decent solution to the last mile problem but...

    [ From the article: ]
    The other advantage of Sanswire's setup, says Molen, is that Stratellites will use a wireless connection scheme known as 802.11 or "WiFi."

    I'm guessing the "advantage" is that they don't intend paying license fees for the 2.4GHz spectrum :). In that case, 4 or 5 competing Wifi-from-the-sky balloons (remember, each one has upto a 300,000 square mile range) could well make it impossible to setup a personal wireless LAN on the ground.

    It's a good idea -- as long as they use their own (rented) portion of the spectrum, and leave the 2.4 GHz commons to us commoners.
    • In that case, 4 or 5 competing Wifi-from-the-sky balloons could well make it impossible to setup a personal wireless LAN on the ground.
      802.11 defines 3 non-overlapping channels in the 2.4 GHz range and 8 non-overlapping channels in the 5 GHz range to help cope with noisy neighbors. Moreover, it is likely that the balloons will be equipped with "smart" antennas. In any event, DSSS will help.
    • could well make it impossible to setup a personal wireless LAN on the ground.

      As well as be aware of interference caused to primary and predecessor users.

      With amateur radio primary in 2390-2450, other predecessor users active in 2.4 GHz ISM and U-NII bands, they're unlikely to find any frequency available for a 300K square mile range that doesn't intentionally cause interference.

      Plus, don't forget that while their signals will be high enough to have LOS, they have one heck of a freespace loss to overcome and certainly would not be in compliance on the return from the subscriber location.

      Seems like a financial pitch for a dot-com idea that wasn't killed in the last round. ISM or U-NII band? Unlikely to ever get off the ground. More likely would be an LMDS/MMDS licensed band purchase from one of the folks like AT&T or Sprint.

      *scoove*
  • by madhippy ( 525384 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:20AM (#4935896)
    ATG came up with a similar idea some time ago - doesn't look like they've got as far as a prototype yet tho - their design is a more usual blimp shape rather than spherical mind ...

    ATG [airship.com]

    Personally, I'd love one of their large Skycat's - imagine a beo.. I mean it'd make a great house ...
  • How many 802.11b freqs are there? How ever many there are that's how many users one balloon is limited to supporting.
    • Directional antenna arrays lets you re-use frequencies efficiently. Since the platform is more-or-less equally distant from all ground terminals it solves the near-far problem and allows the use of arrays with relatively weak side-lobe attenuation.
  • Here's the company that makes the airships 21st Century Airships [21stcenturyairships.com] Is it just me or does anyone else think of "Rover" from The Prisoner?

    In the irony dept, Newmarket is north of Toronto, up Highway .. 404.

  • On weekends, I live in the mountains. Mountain villages with their 80, 100, sometimes 200 inhabitants aren't interesting for telcos, so the only possible Net connection around here is 56k (at 35 kbps because of bad line quality). Additionally, this costs about EUR 2/hour during the day and EUR 0.5/hour at night because local calls are still pretty expensive around here.

    Even if these blimps can only give each subscriber 64k (at a flat rate), that'd already be unbeatable in this area.
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:31AM (#4935931) Homepage Journal

    Note how it's made out of Kevlar? What else is made from Kevlar? Bullet proof vests!

    The kind used in bullet proof vests used by the secret government's storm troopers!

    The kind used in bullet proof vests worn by the secret government's storm troopers which protect their mind control equipment!

    The kind used in bullet proof vests worn by the secret government's storm troopers which protect their mind control equipment as it floats 13 miles above the earth!

    The kind used in bullet proof vests worn by the secret government's storm troopers which protect their mind control equipment as it floats 13 miles above the earth beaming their mind control rays into you!

    /me adds another layer of tinfoil to his hat.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:33AM (#4935933)
    The Area of the uk is about 244,000km. This is small compared to the radius that this sphrere in the sky could serve!

    Considering BT's reluctance to ugrade rural exchanges for ADSL broadband (including mine, I have to get my broadband from Telewest), this could kick start true broadband Britain.
  • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:37AM (#4935943) Homepage Journal
    It could even DOUBLE our download capacity. So that we'll be able to read all the dupes on /..
  • Lets try to keep the math simple

    300,000 sq miles, in a circle would be a radius of rougly 300 miles. With the unit 10 miles in in the air the distance between end point and blimp would be a bit over 300 miles. I don't know of any WiFi that has that kinda range. So you can get a 10 mile antanea on a blimp 10 miles in the air and reach a house directly under the blimp. WOOHOO hurray for progress.
  • Wi-Fi in the sky
    I can fly twice as high
    Take a peek
    You uber-geek
    A Wi-Fi rainbow
  • A network in the sky to control my robots on the ground, what a novel idea. Surely this could come to no harm to anyone. All I need to do now is download XP service pac

    [NO CARRIER]

  • by jcrb ( 187104 ) <jcrb&yahoo,com> on Saturday December 21, 2002 @10:49AM (#4935982) Homepage
    If you look on the web site of the manufacturer [21stcenturyairships.com] you can find this picture [21stcenturyairships.com] where it is clear that those things on the side of the sphere are combination propeller/stearing vane modules.

    BTW does anyone else think that the picture on their front page makes the thing look like the Death Star (tm) :)
  • I predict it will never happen.
    • our buddies the lawyers won't ever let this get off the ground. they will sue sue sue if one of these balloons falls from the sky (insurance policies will be higher near higher density population areas), and you can be sure some one will sue because they are "scared" just knowing the balloon is overhead..heck i can see a class action suit ("Thousands scared by balloon overhead, and out of sight!)
  • A few more links (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    An article from the Toronto Sun [thestar.ca], and an article from a News for Nerds site [slashdot.org]
  • Such a concept might be good for the average user who only surfs and does email and the occasional download, but this would absolutely totally suck for online gamers. If memory serves me right, latency for satellite net access is something like 100ms per kilometer. at 13 miles (roughly 20 kilometers), you'd be looking at 2000 ms minimum just to reach the device, and at least 2000ms from the device to the server. No thanks....
    • by Hollins ( 83264 )
      Where on earth do you get these numbers? If there is a distance-proportional latency, it should only be related to the speed of light, which is roughly 300,000 km/s. So the additional latency should only be 1/300,000 s for each km.
      • You can get many references to satellite internet access latency by doing a quick search in google. My numbers might have been a little off, but even at 1/10th of my original numbers, it still makes things like gaming, VoIP, teleconferencing, etc... (and even most VPNs) pretty much unusable (again, there are many references to this already of google).

        http://www.t1-t3-dsl-line.com/page/43/ [t1-t3-dsl-line.com]
        http://www.computeruser.com/articles/2106,2,1,2,06 01,02.html [computeruser.com]
        http://www.dslreports.com/speed [dslreports.com]
        • from your first link: "long latency times produced in satellite data communications; this is largely due to the 22,000 miles between the earth and the satellite".

          A satellite 22,000 miles away will get you a little bit more latency than a balloon that is 13 miles away.

          Round trip for light to travel 22,000 miles and back: 235 ms

          Round trip for light to travel 13 miles and back: 0.139 ms

          A satellite link will yield 1700 times greater latency than a balloon.

    • speed of light (in free space) 186,000 mps

      13 m/186,000mps = 69 MICROseconds
      • Please explain why most papers and documents on net access over satelittle state that you can add 200-750ms of latency just for the round trip to the satelitte?
        • Because the roundtrip to the high, geosychronous satellites currently used for internet is 40,000 miles. Not insignificant, even for light. What we need is FASTER LIGHT!!
        • Because they can do the math. The Satellites used for 'net access are Geostationary satellites, which are about 20000 miles away from the surface. Thats 107ms travel time each way. Add to this the time taken for the transponder on the satellite to receive the signal and retransmit it on another antenna, and you have a latency > 250ms .
    • If memory serves me right, latency for satellite net access is something like 100 ms per kilometer. At 13 miles (roughly 20 kilometers), you'd be looking at 2000 ms minimum just to reach the device, and at least 2000 ms from the device to the server.
      For starters, the speed of light in a vacuum is approximately 299,792,458 m/s i.e. 3.3 us/km (that's microseconds per km). You're off by 4 orders of magnitude.

      Next, a geostationary [wikipedia.org] satellite orbits at an altitude of approximately 35,790 km [nasa.gov]. Thus, it "only" takes 240 ms for a round trip between Earth and the satellite (propagation delay).

    • I was wrong, I'll admit it. I really shouldn't post before having my first cup of coffee. Lesson learned :P
  • Has anyone thought of the maintenance cost related to this idea? Troubleshooting? How reliable is your ISP now? And we're talking about putting new technology in a ball floating thousands of feet in the air like it'll float for years without failing. This is just another fancy solution to a simple problem. High on the "cool" effect, low of sensibility. Broadband to the home has already been solved. There are multiple solutions. There just is not enough end-user interest to make it cost beneficial to the providers to roll out. A combination of cable, dsl, and ground-based wireless will provide 95% of broadband access to the home for the next decade. The only other player is satellite broadband, which has not won out over any of the other three in any market.
    • Well, if this company is real, I assume THEY have thought about maintenance. Right? As for the rest of your post, didn't you watch the Bush-Gore election? You seem to forget our country is divided into red and blue areas. The blue areas (democratic, urban) mostly get high speed internet. The red areas (rural, republican) mostly don't, via DSL, Cable, or ground based wireless.
      • You assume. And they may have, which would be why the product will never make it to market. What politics has to do with this I have no idea. You're rural=republican statement is false, which I can testify to by being born in a county with only 3 towns (only 1 of which is large enough for a stoplight!) and less republicans (not actually, but its funny). They don't have DSL, Cable, or ground based wireless because there's no money in it! And you think some company is going to profit from floating a multi-million dollar wireless network that is impossible to support over sparsely populated rural areas consisting of people who, for the most part, don't even own computers? They'd fall flat within the a week of the announcement...
  • Other than initial outlay, for most purposes, the satellite solution still seems the most viable to me.

    Of course lag times are a bitch when you're playing Quake or IL2. This is a real issue to me and others, but totally irrelevant to the average net user.

    Maybe 'neutrino radio' zapped directly through the earth?

    KFG
    • Why would satellites be more viable? The biggest benefits of these baloons is that you can bring them down. (Yeah, technically you can bring a satellite down too, just not in one piece.) The costs of building a satellite and sending it up are astronomical. Compare that to these baloons which fly up by themselves.

      And long lag is very annoying even if you only surf. Particularly when you know that "it's a fast connection". It's also bad if you want to do stuff like VoIP or video conferancing.

    • Dozens of balloons will give you thousands of times more bandwidth than three satellites.

      Geostationary satellites are 22000 miles away. It takes powerful transmitters and big dishes for the signal to get through, especially as frequency shortage pushes the signals to ever-higher frequencies that are much more susceptible to weather interference. High-speed mobile terminals are out of the question because of power and antenna limitations. Even if they were practical - where would you get the bandwith for it? From so high up it's not possible to achieve a good frequency reuse factor using directional antenna arrays.

      LEO satellites are much closer (hundreds of miles) but they are not geostationary. You need a whole constellation of them and until they're all up you don't gete continuous coverage anywhere. This makes it very difficult to grow your business slowly - you need a huge up-front investment. Your customers are not exactly distributed uniformly around the globe, either, so you have lots of unused capacity (=expensive hardware) where you don't need it and not enough where you need it the most.
  • Doing a bit of math.
    300,000 is the total sq. miles or the result of
    pi*r^2 (since the area covered must be circular in nature)

    so, r^2 = approx 100,000

    r = approx 316 miles.

    THIS SEEMS LIKE A LARGE DISTANCE TO COVER.
    (I am already warming up from the flames to come on the previous statement already)
    Also - I don't like the idea of having these things floating over our heads to be blown up by enemies of the state at any moment. We will begin to rely on this wireless network and it is ultimately almost completely defenseless, plus no reentry to burn them up before they crash into the ground destroying a home or two. I realize I am being a bit pessimistic here, but I think this is just asking for trouble. Besides, how will they be powered?
    • Enemies of the state? Do you mean terrorists, the types of weapons they have access too aren't going to work against something 13 miles in the sky.....and as for foreign powers, getting their fighters over our land to shoot at these things would likely be a call to WWIII - falling debris from this balloons would be the least of your worries in that case.
  • I have a solution. We can simply erect buildings with huge antennae to service our wifi needs, then move 68,000 ft underground into a large network of tunnels........
  • You think this is a real proposal, or just a trial balloon?
  • That's a big balloon, but not totally out of reach. The USAF routinely operates tethered balloons [af.mil] up to about 15,000 feet. Availability is about 98%; they have to come down for a helium refill now and then. Untethered balloons have to come down for refueling as well.

    The Japanese Government has a similar project [tao.go.jp], and it's further along. They want to go up to 60,000 feet. At higher altitudes, there's less wind pressure to fight while stationkeeping.

  • Who is the idiot that thought up the term WiFi?!?

    Makes it sound like wireless stereo gear.

    I'll bet it was that Ralsky bastard! Let's sign him up for more stuff! To the Lists!
  • Router crash kills 8, film at 11.
  • Wi-Fi only has a few channels. These balloons, at high altitude, are going to be in range of literally tens of thousands of wi-fi emitters, not to mention 2.4GHz (and presumably 5GHz) cordless phones. Microwave ovens also operate on this spectrum - how many little leaks will there be. Remember, this is on Part-15 spectrum (at least in the US) where *anyone* can set up as many transmitters as they want!

    Even with steerable phased array antennas, the interference problem seems insurmountable in urban areas. You would need a WHOLE LOT of great big antennas (many meters - don't have time to do the detailed calcs) and even then many areas are unlikely to work.

    Either something is being left unsaid, or.. I smell a possible scam.

    Does anyone have information that would contradict this interference argument?
    • Dunno what you can do about microwave ovens and cordless phones (switch channels? use directional antennas at the ground stations?) but I think I detailed how you could distinguish tens of thousands of WiFi terminals on the ground in this post [slashdot.org].
      • Yes, I addressed the issue of large antennas (any lense is an antenna, of course). I think the problem is that for a lot of coverage, you need a lot of antennas, OR much limited time available for each station.

        Perhaps they had in mind high gain antennas on each ground station. That would certainly help the problem by 20 dB or so.
        • A synthetic aperture system gives you virtual antennas by its design, and a lens system can have many feedpoints. I have no time to do the calculations right now, but at some size of lens you can have a "retina" which divides the ground into "cells" and lets you see more or less one cell per receptor.

          This doesn't help the aerial system distinguish the computer on the ground from the leaky microwave next to it, or the portable phone in the next room. For that, you do need a directional antenna at the ground to make the WiFi "louder" at the aerial station, and to bring in the aerial station better than the local off-axis interference.

          • It all boils down to the same physics. The only way you cheat on the resolution equation is with a *moving* synthetic aperture antenna, where you can process the signals (if recorded with extremely accurate time resolution) as if the antenna were the length of the distance you moved it. I don't think that applies in this case.

            A lense is mathematically equivalent to an array of traditional antennas. The same fourier equations work whether we are talking refractive optics or 10 MHz HF radio antennas!

            I suspect the whole system hinges on high gain antennas on the ground, although that would require precise station keeping on the balloons (which is very energy intenstive) or tracking by the ground stations (which is an unlikely consumer technology unless the *consumer* end was using 2-D steerable phased arrays).

            It will be interesting to find out just what the designers have in mind. Also interesting is why they would choose a Part-15 (unlicensed station) service.
  • The key to ubiquitous access, as demonstrated by Slashdot, is redundancy.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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