Go Fly a Blimp

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2004-01-27 Print this article Print

Contd"> Behind the awareness that there are people planning to use the Internet on trains, the real research is going to be in two new areas. Capanina looks at permanent High Altitude Platforms, or HAPs, and the industry is looking at business models. Both are the subject of real skepticism. On paper, the figures look exciting. While you cant seriously plan to feed automobile commuters satellite data, drivers arent really a prime market for browsing. Train commuters, however, really are. Consultants BWCS produced a report late last year, for example, predicting that worldwide laptop users "will spend more than 12.6 billion hours on trains during 2003 as compared to just under 2 billion hours spent at airports." But the Wi-Fi optimism assumes that someone finds a way of feeding the data to the trains. Currently, feeding the data to trains is a masterpiece of chewing gum, wet string, and tin cans. You have the satellite link, of course, but youve go to assume that youre going to lose the signal behind buildings, in tunnels, and under railway stations. So you have to set up a bonded link using multiple other sources, CDMA data, GPRS, and local Wi-Fi connections, coupled with special transceivers in the middle of long tunnels. It works, but its hardly ideal.
Instead, Capanina looks forward the development of fuel cells and photovoltaic aircraft like Nasas Helios. Capanina researcher Dr. David Grace at York University is eagerly predicting that unmanned HAPs will be flying overhead at 80,000 feet for six months between takeoffs and using steerable antennae to cover micro-cells of 4 miles diameter. The remote controlled planes dont even have to be overhead, he says. If safety anxieties become heightened, the planes can serve most of the UK from flight patterns well out to sea.
And users on the ground will get over 100 megabits per second of data. Thats certainly enough to satisfy a train full of commuting executives who would otherwise be restricted to whatever the mobile phone network could provide.


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