LONDON An international group of communications companies and research institutes has launched a project to develop a network that will make broadband available to remote rural areas and even to moving trains using airships.
The team plans "high-altitude platforms" (HAPs) that will be permanently located aloft at an altitude of 20 km. The target is to provide access rates of 120Mbit/s anywhere within an HAPs' 60-km diameter coverage area. The team said their approach will be cheaper and more efficient than cable- or satellite-based delivery since HAPs do not require underground cabling or masts.
The group includes researchers experienced in both millimeter-wave and free-space optics technologies. The latter will be used to create interplatform links to supplement millimeter-wave band communications for back-haul traffic.
The European Union-funded project, dubbed Capanina, is part of a larger project within the EU's Framework 6 initiative aimed at providing "broadband for all." It is led by the University of York, England. Other participants include BT Exact Technologies and SkyLINC Ltd from England: Contraves Space AG and the Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique of Switzerland; Carlo Gavazzi Space and EuroConcepts from Italy; as well as the Japanese Communications Research Laboratory, which is involved in a related Japanese government project.
"Demand for fast communication is increasing all over the world, and this technology offers a unique way of delivering broadband inexpensively to people at home, in the office and on the move," said David Grace, the project's principal scientific officer, who is based at the Communications Research Group of the University of York.
York researchers will investigate the most effective way to operate wireless communication links via HAPs, including propagation and resource management.
The team will develop HAP-based systems that can use the spectrum efficiently to reach all areas. These systems will include steerable antennas that will use digital signal processing.
The other European and Japanese partners will handle other areas, including the development and construction of equipment for trials, the creation of business models and free-space optical communications.
The first objective of the project is to deliver broadband connections to rural areas across Europe. The team hopes to achieve that goal within four years. Ultimately, the team will look at delivering high-bit-rate connections to moving trains. This will involve smart antenna systems, which link with access points on the train.
Initial funding for the project is 5.6 million euros (about $ 6.8 million), the bulk of it coming from EU funds. The project is named after the restaurant in Italy where initial discussions were held.
The project builds on another EU program the FP5 HeliNet project that illustrated the potential of broadband from HAPs and provided a framework design.
One of the participants, York-based SkyLINC, said last year it was planning to build a network of basestations in balloons tethered at 1.5 km as a platform for delivering broadband to rural communities.