Brussels, 11 Feb 2004
An EU funded project is preparing to test different forms of high altitude platforms (HAPs), airships or solar powered aircraft located in the sky at an altitude of around 20 km, in order to assess which would be the most efficient in making broadband available to rural communities.
The technology involved in the Capanina project, named after the Italian restaurant where project negotiations first took place, 'really is cutting edge', according to David Grace, the project's principal scientific officer, from the Communications Research Group in the UK. It involves the use of steerable antennas and the latest digital signal processing tools.
Not requiring underground cabling or masts, or the use of a satellite, HAPs would be a cheaper and more efficient means of providing broadband, particularly to areas that are difficult to reach, and to mobile users. The technology is capable of delivering broadband connections 2,000 times faster than via a traditional modem, and 200 times faster than today's fixed line broadband.
During the course of the project, funded under the information society technologies (IST) section of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the Capanina consortium intends to test and demonstrate the potential of different forms of aerial platforms for commercial deployment, explained Dr Grace. The platforms will stay in place using solar powered propellers to circle above a specific location during daylight hours, and will be powered by fuel cells or lithium batteries overnight. This aspect is described as 'one of the project's major challenges' by Dr Grace.
One of the other challenges for the consortium will be to develop a business model illustrating the degree to which HAPs are more cost efficient than terrestrial or satellite systems. The savings are, however, expected to be significant.
Asked why such technology hasn't already been investigated in light of such benefits, Dr Grace referred to a 'chicken and egg' situation. 'People are sceptical about new technology, and are therefore unwilling to fund it. But then they don't get to see the technology. We're very grateful to the Commission for funding this project,' Dr Grace told CORDIS News.
The platforms would cover a diameter of at least 60 km. Dr Grace gave the example of York, in the UK, as an area which could benefit from the technology. While York itself is a large city, it is surrounded by small villages, satellite communities, which currently have no hope of receiving broadband.
Capanina brings together researchers from the UK, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. The Japanese component is described as 'critical' by Dr Grace. 'They are a very, very helpful partner. It's a win-win situation for Europe and Japan. They have access to our findings and we have access to their findings,' he explained.
It is still early days for the Capanina project, but work is already well underway. The consortium is currently looking at how it can collaborate with other projects, from both FP5 and FP6, and is preparing for the first trials, due to take place in the summer.
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