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Weather Balloons To Provide Broadband In Africa

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the how-about-the-rural-united-states-too dept.

The Internet 179

An anonymous reader writes "Two African entrepreneurs have secured exclusive access to market near-space technology — developed by Space Data, an American telecommunications company — throughout Africa. The technology raises hydrogen-filled weather balloons to 80,000 — 100,000 feet, which individuals contact via modems. The balloons, in turn, serve as satellite substitutes which can connect Africans to broadband Internet. 'Network operation centers are located close to a fiber optic cable — say, in Lagos or Accra — and a signal is sent back and forth to the [balloon] in near space,' says one of the entrepreneurs, Timothy Anyasi. The technology will also allow mobile phone operators to offer wireless modems to customers."

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This will be nice (2, Interesting)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364579)

to fill the gap until we get UAVs that can stay up for extended periods of time.

Re:This will be nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364619)

"...until we get UAVs to do target practice on them."

Remember chemistry class and hydrogen balloons? Those were fun times.

Re:This will be nice (3, Insightful)

rcw-home (122017) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365213)

Remember chemistry class and hydrogen balloons? Those were fun times.

Honestly, I hope they use hydrogen for this. Helium is uniquely non-replaceable. It's the product of very slow alpha particle decay, trapped in natural gas fields and such. We'll eventually empty those natural gas fields. There are lots of other ways to make energy, and we can make natural gas if we need methane, specifically, for whatever reason. But we can't make helium except through nuclear fusion. Even then, if fusion delivered 100% of earth's electricity needs, it'd only create a small fraction of what we currently use per year.

We'll always have plenty of hydrogen because it bonds to everything. Helium doesn't, so once you crack open that helium tank, it's just a matter of time until it floats off into space, where it's as good as gone.

Re:This will be nice (3, Insightful)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365573)

Yes, but I doubt if they use a significant amount of helium.
How much do those ballons use?
Compare to cooling down a NMR magnet, which consumes more than 1000 liters liquid ( > 700,000 liters gas).
Sadly there is a helium shortage, not so much that we are hitting the point of end of resources (which will eventually come), but because not all the natural gas fields that could capture - are capturing helium.
http://www.purchasing.com/article/CA6518723.html [purchasing.com]
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6444180 [npr.org]

Re:This will be nice (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364769)

A weather balloon IS a UAV that can stay up for extended periods of time.

Re:This will be nice (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364989)

Why do you want to over engineer things? A balloon is easy to make, cheap to make and can stay up for days.

Re:This will be nice (3, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365137)

These don't - they stay up for 24 hours. DARPA has people working on fixed wing aircraft that will stay up for months. That's not over engineering - that's much better than this.

Re:This will be nice (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365285)

Let's take the 24 hours as the limit. I imagine if you designed a different type of balloon with a different shape, you could easily increase this. But for example's sake, let's stick with 24 hours.

According to the article, these things cost $50/each. Predators cost $15 Million. I wonder what a UAV that stays up for months would cost. Even if you got the cost down to $1 Million, you can send up quite a few balloons for much cheaper.

Re:This will be nice (3, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365499)

The longer a balloon is up - the farther it is going to travel. Anything to change that will drive up costs. And switch around the comparison - so that it makes economic sense. What's the cost of an ultra-endurance airplane compared to a satellite?

The Vulture [networkworld.com] program is aiming for an aircraft that can keep a 1,000 lb payload up for at least 5 years - over a designated area 99% of the time. That's further out - but it makes more sense than balloons for quite a few reasons.

Re:This will be nice (4, Funny)

evilviper (135110) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365231)

Why do you want to over engineer things? A balloon is easy to make, cheap to make and can stay up for days.

Perhaps because: "The balloons come down every 24 hours due to the limitations of battery life -- and to keep them from floating into territories that don't subscribe to the service. "You're looking at a wide geographic area -- there's a wide jet stream at near space"

BTW, you'll NEVER GUESS where that quote came from... NEVER!

Re:This will be nice (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365341)

So is this a balloon on a 100,000' tether?

Re:This will be nice (2, Funny)

2obvious4u (871996) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365479)

From the TFA? I wouldn't know I didn't read it...

Re:This will be nice (3, Interesting)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365579)

I'm waiting for someone to build a solar-powered, unmanned zeppelin. If you inflate it with hydrogen, you can maintain altitude by electrolyzing ballast water or by venting off excess hydrogen. A weather balloon might stay up for days; this could stay up for years.

Re:This will be nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365439)

to fill the gap until we get UAVs that can stay up for extended periods of time.

A weather balloon IS an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle. Unless you are trying to say they are putting people in them.
And last time I checked, they already stay up for extended periods of time anyhow.

But I get what you meant- you meant an unmanned airplane of some type. I would personally think that a small blimp-type vehicle would be the best option, it would have enough maneuverability and control to stay essentially in a fixed place, and come back to a base for repairs or maintenance.

Re:This will be nice (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365555)

Fixed wing - solar powered/augmented - that's my guess. I don't know what it will look like in the end but people who are a lot smarter than I am have been working hard on this for a while. The military applications are too obvious for it to be otherwise.

Re:This will be nice (2, Funny)

Bastard of Subhumani (827601) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365715)

people who are a lot smarter than I am have been working hard on this for a while.

6.7 billion people are working on it?

They'll have these in England soon (5, Funny)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364589)

but with CCTV cameras rather than broadband

Re:They'll have these in England soon (1)

batquux (323697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364861)

Oh, the humanity!

Re:They'll have these in England soon (1)

M8e (1008767) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365129)

Oh, the humility!

Re:They'll have these in England soon (3, Funny)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365621)

Oh the humidity!

Or maybe you're right - perhaps English gents use umbrellas all the time because of the floating cameras...

Re:They'll have these in England soon (4, Funny)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365103)

It's the US company that getting exclusive rights to spy on broadband in Africa. At least your CCTV cameras are domestic...

Re:They'll have these in England soon (1)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365703)

It's the US company that getting exclusive rights to spy on broadband in Africa. At least your CCTV cameras are domestic...

More than likely they'll just make it into yet another cable channel so the cable companies can proclaim "more value for your money!"

click!

Guy with beard yelling at you to sell some ineffectual product ("and if you order now, you'll get two...")

click!

CSPAN

click!

Court's Lobby

click!

Reality TV - What's doing in Africa - View from above

click!

Dishwashing Network

really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364613)

that sounds much better than eating.

Re:really? (2, Insightful)

TorKlingberg (599697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364953)

This may be news to you, but not everyone in Africa is starving.

Re:really? (3, Interesting)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365303)

Not only that but communication tools are vital to improving the livelihood of Africans. I've been working with an open source tool, Frontline SMS [frontlinesms.com] - it's already being used to do some amazing things.
 
Rather than continuing to send cash and some food, which has thus far not really been much help - we can help build infrastructure that will give people more control over their own lives and the ability to improve their circumstances on their own.
 
I saw a demo a couple weeks ago by some guys from a communications lab from a local university. They are building a system to provide educational materials via mobile phones - iphone and android right now. They've got grants to get androids on the ground in developing nations. The system can work completely via sms if necessary but an internet connection is better.
 
There are some exciting things going on in tech in Africa and this is cool to see.

first african post! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364639)

muh dick, fo shizzle nigga

de wite man be keepin me down, dat's why dis post ain't be firs. holla

Re:first african post! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365169)

Hey! I'm an African, you insensitive clod!

Re:first african post! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365207)

The two owners are " both Nigerian-born serial entrepreneurs". I wonder what type of spam their customers will be likely to receive... :)

Untethered (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364651)

Interesting approach to keeping them in the right spot. I was curious if they used a line or some sort of stabilization system.

Nope. They just let them float away. But they come down after 24 hours and are just tracked down with GPS and replaced.

The balloons come down every 24 hours due to the limitations of battery life -- and to keep them from floating into territories that don't subscribe to the service. "You're looking at a wide geographic area -- there's a wide jet stream at near space -- and that allows balloons to keep on floating without stop," Anyasi explains. "It's cheap to bring them down, as balloons cost only about $50, and since they are equipped with a GPS, it is easy to locate them and reuse them."

Re:Untethered (1)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364747)

hmmmm, easy to locate, only cost 50 euro... I just have this image of a guy getting paid to drive around all day retrieving balloons from trees roofs lakes etc to save presumably less than 50 quids worth of material per balloon. Might be easier to just offer a 10 quid finders fee per balloon.

Re:Untethered (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364795)

It is quite possible that the balloon(i.e. the actual gas-filled bit) only costs $50; but I'd suspect that the equipment package hanging underneath it costs a good bit more, at least one factor of ten, quite possibly more. I say this because you can, just about, if your time is free, get an ordinary wifi router and a battery to suit rigged up for $50. I'd be absolutely shocked if you could get a proper, tested, setup for a reasonable number of users, with battery and GPS and radio(s) for $50.

Re:Untethered (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364803)

in rural Africa.... I'm sure its not going to be the equivalent of a short drive to the shops!

I recall something about this in south africa for mobiles. Te problem with fixed base stations was that they were raided for copper and orther materials, so they thought about putting the station on a tethered balloon. Why wouldn't that be a better solution that 'disposable' weather balloons (unless the coverage was so good for a near-orbit balloon).

Re:Untethered (1)

CookieOfFortune (955407) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364923)

It's ok, you can turn it into a video game and people will do it for free!

Re:Untethered (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365057)

It's not really clear what is meant by that, but I'm guessing it's like this:

– weather balloon, $50
– electronics payload, $unspecified_large_amount
– launching the balloon (i.e. the cost of the helium), $unspecified_small_amount

That would explain why re-using the balloons is feasible: If you were just saving $50, it probably wouldn't be worth it, like you said. You want the electronics back, though, because they're probably expensive, and since you're going to retrieve those you might as well re-use the balloon too and save the $50.

Re:Untethered (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365553)

They probably open a valve to let the helium out and try to reuse both the balloon and the electronics pack.

From http://www.chem.hawaii.edu/uham/lift.html [hawaii.edu]

A 7 foot dia balloon lifts about a dozen pounds and takes about two hundred cu feet to fill. At about a quarter a cubic foot, it's going to cost about fifty bucks for the helium.

Helium is NOT cheap... Looking at more than $2 per hour per balloon just for the helium. And helium is not a renewable resource.

Re:Untethered (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365633)

Hmm, yeah, you're probably right. It wasn't really clear whether $50 was the cost per launch or the cost of the balloon, but your explanation sounds likely.

Only one accessible site though (4, Funny)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364683)

weather.com

iPhone 3.0 release is here (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364689)

oh yeah, bitches

Fully wireless. Less flaming homos than a Nomad. Lame.

Re:iPhone 3.0 release is here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365527)

The iPhone "Ed's iPhone" cannot be updated at this time because the activation server is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Disaster? (2, Insightful)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364701)

So what happens then when these untethered balloons are floating up into the jet stream and a Airbus or 747 doesn't pick it up on radar and the damn thing floats right into the jet intake, causing an explosion and bringing down 400 souls to their death?

Re:Disaster? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364741)

So what happens then when these untethered balloons are floating up into the jet stream and a Airbus or 747 doesn't pick it up on radar and the damn thing floats right into the jet intake, causing an explosion and bringing down 400 souls to their death?

They are tracked by GPS. It would be fairly trivial to keep the appropriate air traffic control authorities apprised of their location, and, given the kind of concern you point to, I would assume that this is mandatory.

Re:Disaster? (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364805)

The balloons will/should carry a transponder that identifies them on all radars pinging them.

Re:Disaster? (1)

SCPaPaJoe (767952) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364883)

I have a friend in Colorado who wrote software to track his balloons. I remember him telling me that he forwards the info to the FAA so ATC can route air traffic around them. http://eoss.org/ [eoss.org]

Re:Disaster? (0, Flamebait)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364951)

It would be fairly trivial to keep the appropriate air traffic control authorities apprised of their location, and, given the kind of concern you point to, I would assume that this is mandatory.
They couldn't track planes on 9/11 how do you expect them to be competent enough to track weather balloons. Also would the gps track the balloon 3 dimensionally. (While it going up and down?)

Re:Disaster? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365371)

Also would the gps track the balloon 3 dimensionally. (While it going up and down?)

Since your post reeks of flamebait, I'm going to intentionally answer you in a round-about way. Hopefully, you'll be too obtuse to figure out what the answer is, but I'm sure plenty of Slashdotters will think it's far more interesting than a simple yes or no answer would have been.

The GPS system consists of a set of satellites with precisely known locations transmitting the exact time on a regular basis.

Radio signals propagate at the speed of light; by computing the delay between actual time and received time, you can tell how far away you are from each satellite you're picking up. (Fun fact... if you want a really precise measurement you actually have to apply the theory of relativity here.)

Once you know your precise distance from at least 3 satellites, and the locations of the satellites is known, it's a simple matter of triangulation to calculate your position.

I've now given you more than enough information to answer your question.

Re:Disaster? (2, Insightful)

jo42 (227475) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364761)

When was the last time a passenger airplane flew at 80,000 to 100,000 feet?

Re:Disaster? (4, Informative)

TinFoilMan (1371973) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364807)

When was the last time a passenger airplane flew at 80,000 to 100,000 feet?

Yeah, but the balloons have to travel upwards through the same airspace that airlines and other aircraft travel through.

Re:Disaster? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365749)

And what goes up must come down.

Re:Disaster? (1)

charlesnw (843045) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364771)

Um..... last I checked, planes don't fly at 80,000 feet. They fly between 25 and 35 thousand feet.

Re:Disaster? (1)

stevied (169) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365119)

No, but AFAICT they haven't discovered a way of teleporting the balloons from the ground straight up into the stratosphere. Especially given that the lifecycle is only 24 hours, they're going to spend quite a lot of time ascending and descending.

Re:Disaster? (1)

NiteMair (309303) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365613)

they're going to spend quite a lot of time ascending and descending.

Well, ascending perhaps... descending? not so much.

Re:Disaster? (5, Informative)

0x000000 (841725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364801)

As I am not familiar with African law, just with FAA flight regulations here in the United States.

Having been on a near space team (http://nearspace.0x58.com), and having launched two near space balloons, 92,999 ft, and 83,000 ft I can tell you that they pose no problems for jet liners. The balloons are big enough to be spotted by any pilot worth his salt, and they only stick around the altitude where jets fly in the first place for just a minute or so because they ascend so fast.

Also, depending on the weight in the United States you have to file a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) which gets distributed to all of the flight control towers, air traffic controllers and will also be distributed to pilots flying in the area you are planning on launching. Anything under 6 pounds you don't have to notify, but it is generally nice to do so as a courtesy. 12 pounds is the limit for amateur near space balloon launches. I have no experience with bigger near space payloads.

Re:Disaster? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365265)

... The balloons are big enough to be spotted by any pilot worth his salt...

At night, too?

Wow.

Re:Disaster? (4, Informative)

0x000000 (841725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365287)

At night all balloons are required to have a flashing light that is visible for up to 2 or 5 miles.

So yes, at night as well.

Re:Disaster? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365645)

At night all balloons are required to have a flashing light that is visible for up to 2 or 5 miles.

So yes, at night as well.

Through clouds, too?

Wow.

Haven't figured out why you had to post those NOTAMs yet, have you?

Re:Disaster? (4, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364995)

So what happens then when these untethered balloons are floating up into the jet stream and a Airbus or 747 doesn't pick it up on radar

causing an explosion and bringing down 400 souls to their death

Looks like you've answered your own question there. I just hope I'm not on that plane.

Re:Disaster? (1)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365095)

I guess if you're unlucky enough to have four African Broadband Balloons take out all four of your engines on a passenger airliner, and you don't have enough height to coast to a runway, you're probably doomed anyway.

What happens? (2, Funny)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365203)

So what happens then when these untethered balloons are floating up into the jet stream and a Airbus or 747 doesn't pick it up on radar and the damn thing floats right into the jet intake, causing an explosion and bringing down 400 souls to their death?

More than likely? Thousands of customers below will go "Hey, who turned off the f*ckin' Internet?"

Re:What happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365665)

Please. This is the Internet in Africa we're talking about.

You mean, thousands of customers below will go "What the Click-Click-Whistle-Gh happened to my Porn?!"

Re:Disaster? (1)

rijrunner (263757) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365259)

    Well, to start with, the jets you refer to fly at about 35,000 feet. That's 50,000-70,000 feet lower than the balloon.

    Even on launch, it would not be much of an issue. The launch team notifies air traffic control of this and they issue a NOTAM. That is a notice that such-and-such area will be launching something during a certain timeframe and should be avoided.

    Also, balloons ascend at about given known rate. Let's say the balloon is 100 feet long and ascends as 200 feet/minute (a low rate), that means there is about a 30 second window for it to be at the same elevation as the jet in question. Then, it would have to be in exactly the right place and time to be hit.

    This isn't something that even barely touches on a safety concern. High traffic aviation routes have far larger encroachments in their space daily.

The origin of the internet (1)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364715)

It is funny if we remember that the internet first goal was to be used by the military as a highly redundant/reliable network.

Cmdr Taco: General McNeil, it seems that we lost the Abidjan balloon.

General McNeil: I know, it must be the hurricane or maybe the North-Koreans shot it down, well TCP-IP should take care of re-routing traffic to the Brazaville balloon anyway...

Good idea although, best bang for the buck to make internet available I would assume...

Re:The origin of the internet (1, Funny)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364897)

No, the internet was invented by Al Gore for research Universities to share data and information and all information on the internet wants to be free and the fact that for-profit business are on the internet (instead of our beloved for-profit universities) is a shame, they're not even legally supposed to be here because the internet is not for corporations but for the free and uninhibited spread of information among users (as long as they're not idiots, wake me up when september ends and the freshman get a grip on netiquette) also does anyone have a spare zip drive I could borrow?

Re:The origin of the internet (1)

powerlord (28156) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365765)

Its a sad sad day when an reference to the "Endless September" is marked down as Offtopic.

first thought -- gonna need a really long tether! (3, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364753)

Second thought -- Palm doesn't want anyone talking about tethers.

Third thought after reading the article -- they're just releasing these balloons and letting them come down after a day in the air? Just hunting the damn things down will be a chore and a half. But this is precisely the market segment the UAV people were talking about. I think the name they were using was aerostat. Idea 1 is using a solar-powered aircraft to fly in U2 territory relaying data. Missions would last three or four months and then the plane is brought back down for maintenance. The idea is that the solar cells would charge during the day and the engines would operate off of batteries at night. The second idea is using some manner of unmanned dirigible where buoyancy is provided by hydrogen and the solar-powered engines are meant for station-keeping.

I guess this is really a matter of economics -- I guess it's cheaper to hire a guy and a jeep and hand him a map versus paying millions for air vehicles that aren't in production yet?

Re:first thought -- gonna need a really long tethe (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364875)

Solar cells,two or thee small electric motors and the ballon becomes a blimp. Far easir to track if you can remote pilot it to known locations

Seriously? (0, Flamebait)

hbean (144582) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364819)

Yah, its pretty important to make sure they all have internet access so they can hit up youtube while they starve to death.

How about we spend the cash on some food, or clean drinking water...or something equally less a luxury.

Re:Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364955)

We spend? This is intended as a commercial venture. Anyway, without communications how do we know who to send food and water too?

Re:Seriously? (1)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364997)

Because the people starving won't be able to afford the internet never mind a computer. Only the rich will be able to use it and the poor will somehow end up paying for it anyway.

Re:Seriously? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365097)

Seriously.

Unlike people like you, who have plenty of free time to spend 'luxuriously' coasting the intertubes, internet access can provide plenty to an impoverished community.

What are the keys to a self sustaining community? Education and Commerce are right up there and in this day and age, internet access is a powerful tool to meet those needs.

Re:Seriously? (4, Insightful)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365109)

First of all, if they are seriously considering a commercial venture here, it implies there are enough well-off people to be served that it could be a viable business. Second, this will simply generate business, which means more cashflow, leading to more economic growth witin these countries. Not to mention poverty is commonly tied to low education and the internet is a powerful educational tool when used properly.

Re:Seriously? (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365131)

How about we spend the cash on some food, or clean drinking water...or something equally less a luxury.

That's just trolling. I almost fell for it, but decided not to feed the troll.

That's freaking awesome. (-1, Offtopic)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364877)

NT

Re:That's freaking awesome. (0, Redundant)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365195)

Offtopic? geez, that's a bit harsh.

Yeah, I was pretty brief, but I couldn't really think of any way to elaborate on my point that wouldn't have drawn it out unnecessarily. "That's freaking awesome" pretty much said it all.

Modems (0, Redundant)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364879)

The technology raises hydrogen-filled weather balloons to 80,000 -- 100,000 feet, which individuals contact via modems.

I would have thought that multiple 100,000 ft lengths of telephone wire would make the balloons too heavy.

Re:Modems (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364939)

I hope you're making a joke, because "modem" stands for MOdulator/DEModulator and correctly describes any device that converts outgoing signals from digital to analog and incoming ones from analog back to digital.

IRC (4, Funny)

linuxg0d (913436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364893)

[1131] Disconnected: Balloon Service Interrupted. Try again later.

Re:IRC (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365083)

Not to burst your bubble, but &*#L: 34:LH kjk'3l

NO CARRIER

Near Space Balloon Launches (4, Informative)

0x000000 (841725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364913)

Speaking from personal experience with the near space launches I have completed with a team (http://nearspace.0x58.com) located in Arizona, I hope they don't make the mistake of putting the GPS on the outside of the box. During our second balloon launch we launched closer to night so that we could attempt to get photo's of the sun setting (and boy did we succeed: http://nearspace.0x58.com/launches/CONNERY-2/pictures/Payload_Camera/ [0x58.com] ).

However what we had not counted on was the fact that the temperature would drop so low that the GPS would literally freeze and stop responding and completely shut off, until it got low enough, and warm enough again to turn on. We thought we had lost our package payload.

Other than that, since the balloons are going to follow whatever winds they can find, how are they going to make sure that the area they want to service has a balloon above it at all times? What if the wind is going in the wrong direction? As for recovering the devices, will they be water proof? What if it lands in a lake, or body of water? What about high up on the mountain side somewhere?

Definitely interesting and something to watch in the near future, if this is cheaper than launching a satellite and can be done in a sustainable method and still provide adequate phone service or other services using near space technology!

Re:Near Space Balloon Launches (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365165)

Give us a clue. At about 1 minute per photo I'm not going to download them all looking for a sunset. All I've found so far is sky and gutlords [0x58.com] .

Re:Near Space Balloon Launches (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365175)

I hope they don't make the mistake of putting the GPS on the outside of the box. ... the temperature would drop so low that the GPS would literally freeze and stop responding and completely shut off, until it got low enough, and warm enough again to turn on.

As long as the GPS works after the balloon comes back to earth, it should be fine... they're only using it to retrieve the balloons, from what I read.

Other than that, since the balloons are going to follow whatever winds they can find, how are they going to make sure that the area they want to service has a balloon above it at all times? What if the wind is going in the wrong direction?

You probably know better than I do, since you actually launched a balloon, but aren't winds at such extremely high altitudes generally pretty stable?

As for recovering the devices, will they be water proof? What if it lands in a lake, or body of water?

Well, one would certainly hope so. And that they float, too.

What about high up on the mountain side somewhere?

Africa's pretty flat... although that might be a point to consider if you're thinking of implementing this idea somewhere that isn't flat.

Re:Near Space Balloon Launches (1)

0x000000 (841725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365255)

The winds even at really high altitudes can be very unstable. The flight path for our first balloon was absolutely amazing, the second balloon was launched from the same location and ended up on the other side of Phoenix.

Redefining technology (3, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364947)

This could give a whole new meaning to "the internet is down". Of course when signing up you have to be wary when they advertise "high"-speed internet. I guess it should work fine though, given the cheap overhead. I just wish it wasn't only planned for parts of Africa, as it sounds like it will be above and beyond what we've got here in America.

Solar cells (3, Interesting)

castrox (630511) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364967)

Apparently the balloons need to be taken down daily to have their batteries recharched. I wonder, wouldn't 80,000-100,000 feet be mostly above cloud level and be an excellent opportunity to use solar cells?

The balloons come down every 24 hours due to the limitations of battery life -- and to keep them from floating into territories that don't subscribe to the service.

The drifting might be a tougher nut to crack though. Rather interesting idea for rural areas actually.

Re:Solar cells (2, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365239)

If you are going to bring them down after 24 hours for drift reasons, there's no reason to use solar cells - batteries are dead-nuts reliable and cheap.

        Brett

neat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365009)

Neat Idea, they should deploy these in rural america where verizon doesn't go and the comcast/at&t duopoly is fierce..

It's going to end in tears. (1)

nroets (1463881) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365041)

It's going to end in tears. I can already see a movie being made. Black Hotspot Down.

Obligatory F-Troop (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365045)

IT is ballooooon!

one lakh feet (1, Troll)

Mipoti Gusundar (1028156) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365053)

luckyly well out of range of the throwing spear's!

good idea (3, Insightful)

GregNorc (801858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365059)

When you take into a ccount that any time they try and lay fiber it gets stolen and sold for it's scrap value, this is a great idea. Less chance of the infrastructure being stolen/damaged.

Not sure (3, Interesting)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365187)

This seems like an awfully expensive solution. Does anyone remember Stratovision? [wikipedia.org] It was too costly to keep a B-29 in the air 24/7 just to broadcast. Why should it be any different with disposable air balloons carrying easily lost technology?

If God meant for cell towers to be attached to balloons, he would have, uh, err, done something different!

Beats the Hell Out of Bushmail (1)

good soldier svejk (571730) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365209)

Or at least it has the potential to, if they make a rural RF sharing option available. [bushmail.co.za]

Sounds like Spin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365247)

Life imitates art on this one. One of the characters in the novel Spin founded a company with simular technology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_(novel)

Previous Use of Radar Aerostats (5, Informative)

tresho (1000127) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365277)

The US has been using these along the southern border for years. They are tethered & fly at 15,000 feet and provide radar coverage along the border to interdict drug smuggling by air. They had problems with leaky balloons, and the need to ground them for maintenance, at which time they were vulnerable to bad weather on the surface. There were formal no-fly zones posted in their vicinity. Apparently there was no problem with aircraft running into them. I've driven along I-10 and occasionally have been able to see them in the air, they definitely look like hovering flying saucers.

Yay! Nigeria will be covered. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365291)

I have an important transaction in progress with someone in the ministry of finance. This will maybe help the transaction go smoother!

The Golden Age Of Ballooning (1)

BigBlueOx (1201587) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365313)

There is also a book called 'The Golden Age of Ballooning' published by the BBC. It's in an attractive hand-tooled binding, is priced £5 and failure to buy it will make you liable to a £50 fine or three months' imprisonment.

And now ...

what is it? (3, Funny)

binaryseraph (955557) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365445)

"Look its a bird!"

"Its a plane!"

"Uh its my ISP bro..."

SpaceData (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28365521)

The company that actually produces and operates these balloons is SpaceData corp. http://spacedata.net/

They currently offer low bandwidth coverage across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. This is used, for example, to monitor oil wells in the middle of nowhere which are otherwise left untended allowing them to take readings without having to make a costly trip to the well.

Repeat from 1937? (1)

Lost Penguin (636359) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365727)

Oh, the humanity....

Cell towers already there.. (2, Interesting)

lazn (202878) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365783)

My parents live in Africa and get better cell coverage than I do here in the USA. They can drive from northern Zambia to the tip of South Africa and never lose signal.

So Why not just use the existing Cell Towers to provide broadband?

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