Brussels, 21 Oct 2005
An EU funded project has made a significant breakthrough in proving the viability of delivering broadband Internet access via high altitude platforms in the stratosphere, following successful tests in Sweden.
The CAPANINA consortium, made up of 13 partners from Europe and Japan, carried out the trial using radio and optical communications equipment onboard a 12,000 cubic metre balloon flying at an altitude of 24 kilometres. The researchers achieved data rates of 11 megabits per second (Mbps) at distances of up to 60 km, but believe the technology could eventually support data rates up to 200 times faster than traditional 'wired' broadband access. The majority of the project's funding has been provided via the information society technologies (IST) priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
David Grace from the University of York in the UK, the project's principle scientific officer, said after the trial: 'Proving the ability to operate a high data rate link from a moving stratospheric balloon is a critical step in moving towards the longer term aim of providing data rates of 120 Mbps.'
During the same trial, CAPANINA's German partner DLR performed the first known optical downlink from the stratosphere at a distance of 64 km, achieving a data link rate of 1.25 gigabits per second.
The first priority of the CAPANINA project is to demonstrate how high altitude platforms (HAPs) such as balloons and airships can be used to deliver low cost broadband access to remote and rural areas across Europe. The same system could also be used to provide mobile high speed Internet connectivity, for example on trains.
According to the project's website: 'Stratospheric broadband fills the gap between satellite and terrestrial wireless technologies. Furthermore, without the need to dig up roads to lay new cables it is of particular relevance to rural, suburban and moving users.'
Alan Gobbi, marketing manager of the University of York's commercial unit, the York Electronic Centre, told the BBC News website: 'The launch cost of the infrastructure is likely to be one-tenth that of satellite, and one airship can support a user density one thousand times that of satellite.'
The success of the trial suggests that the technology could become a reality within three to five years. Meanwhile the CAPANINA consortium will continue its research, with further trials planned for 2006 in conjunction with the project's Japanese partners.