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Tech Industry

Broadband by airship?

Imagine tiny airships dotting Atlanta's skies. Enter Sanswire, a company that aims to bring broadband to the masses.

A company aiming to bring broadband to the masses via tiny airships next week plans to dot Atlanta's skies with a flotilla of low-orbiting "stratellites."

According to Sanswire Networks, fixed wireless equipment on land will send a signal to antennae in stratellites floating high over the city, then to designated areas on the ground. The stratellites are similar to satellites in concept, but they are stationed in the stratosphere like unmanned airships rather than being put in orbit. The company plans to demonstrate applications using IP-based voice and video over the stratellite connection.

A broadband network based on tiny airships isn't as farfetched as it seems. A commercial balloon-based IP network, owned by Space Data, began operating in April. Its network is used to monitor gas and oil field employees in a 400-mile area of the Permian Basin region in the western part of Texas.

Attention on nontraditional ways of getting broadband has increased now that President Bush and opponent John Kerry are focusing their campaigns on improving on the relatively few broadband-connected homes and offices in the United States. Many of the underserved areas are too expensive to reach by telephone or cable network, the dominant way broadband is doled out.

Stratellites can be positioned much lower in the sky than balloon-based IP networks. That makes it faster to send photos, e-mails or other forms of uploading onto the Internet. Uploads are something that higher-orbiting balloons have problems with.

But there's a price to pay for the low-altitude high speeds. The airships are buffeted about in jet streams, and their covers wear down after about 18 months. Satellites, on the other hand, can last decades.

Sanswire Networks is a wholly owned subsidiary of Miami-based GlobeTel Communications.