A surveillance blimp in Afghanistan. Source: ISAF (CC BY 2.0. U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Travis Vallery)
Not content with offering super-fast broadband in Austin andKansas City, Google GOOG +1.75%has plans to use blimps to deliver wide-area wireless internet connectivity in Africa and other emerging markets, according to reports in the the Wall Street Journal and a post on Google’s Africa blog.
(Not to be confused with Google’s Blimp Ads prank.)
The [low frequency, white space] technology is well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.
Google’s plan a plausible step on from existing projects. For example, tethered aerostats (blimps) are already in use in Afghanistan to provide low-cost, persistent surveillance.
In a 2009 interview, Col. Patrick Rhodes, Commander of the USAF’s Space Battle Lab, told me:
The ability to persist over a single geographical area is the holy grail of any kind of communications device, [today] we have to go out to multi-gazillion dollar geostationary satellites to achieve that.
The military’s renewed interest in the stratosphere has already borne fruit. The U.S. Army launched a prototype of itsCombat SkySat ‘military retransmission platform’ last October. Instead of tying up expensive and scarce satellite communications bandwidth for tactical communications, Combat SkySat acts as an airborne relay station for troops on the ground.