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Blimp-like SuperTowers Will Bring Broadband to Rural Areas

Blimp-like SuperTowers Will Bring Broadband to Rural Areas April 9, 2018 10:14 am
Blimp-like SuperTowers Will Bring Broadband to Rural Areas

Photo Credit: Altaeros

While it’s true that the majority of America’s population resides in large cities which tend to fall closer to the coasts, a massive portion of the population continues to reside in regions which qualify as rural. Because these regions are more sparsely populated, cellular service providers have been traditionally hesitant to invest in large, expensive cell towers whose signals will reach a relatively disparate portion of population, especially compared with dense urban centers.

Estimates have indicated that serving the rural population with cell towers that would provide broadband service could cost as much as $12.5 billion, as approximately 37,500 new cellular towers would need to be constructed. For most cell providers, it’s simply not worth the investment; otherwise, they would have already constructed them.

Fortunately for both the likes of Verizon and the countless customers currently lacking adequate cell service in rural regions, a cheaper solution has emerged to deliver broadband to more sparsely populated regions. Boston-based startup Altaeros is teaming with Ericsson to deliver LTE service to traditionally hard-to-reach regions through an innovation it’s referring to as the ‘SuperTower’.

The SuperTower itself is a tethered aerostat which has the look of an industrial blimp which is tied to a spot on the ground. Aerostat technology has been in use for years by both the military and commercial entities as a device to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance, and leverage telecommunications. Altaeros, a startup founded in 2010 out of MIT, recognized that there was an application for the technology that would allow rural residents to attain streaming and download speeds which were comparable to residents who lived closer to traditional cell towers. The SuperTowers can reach heights up to eight times higher than traditional towers, part of the reason their signals are able to span such great distances in reaching spread-out populations.

Costing as much as 70% less than traditional cell towers to implement with a range that is the equivalent of 30 standing cell towers, the SuperTowers are a logical solution to a problem which has persisted since cell phones became commonplace. Having conducted successful tests in rural Maine which saw residents streaming video at broadband speeds, these systems are now ready for a more widespread rollout.

People living in rural areas often have limited or no access to high-speed broadband. With Ericsson's innovative radio technology installed on the SuperTower, we aim to change that and help provide these consumers access to the benefits of affordable broadband, such as health care, education, and economic growth, said Ben Glass, CEO and CTO of Altaeros.

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