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High altitude platforms to provide broadband for all

19 May 2004 News

An international project led by York University aims to make broadband available to remote rural areas and even moving trains, thanks to high altitude platforms (HAPs).

These HAPs will be airships or solar-powered aircraft that are permanently located in the skies at an altitude of 20 km, above the altitudes at which aircraft normally operate but below that of satellites.

Said to promise lower cost and better efficiency than present technologies, HAPs do not require underground cabling or masts - which can be both expensive and inconvenient - to deliver broadband. They are also better able to serve mass markets with high-speed communications than satellites are. Ideal for rural, suburban and other hard-to-reach areas, the HAP technology will also benefit users who are on the move.

"The opportunities offered by HAPs are exciting," said York University's Dr David Grace, the project's principal scientific officer. "Demand for fast communication is increasing all over the world and this technology offers a unique way of delivering broadband inexpensively to people wherever they are."

Connections will be 2000 times faster than via a traditional modem and 200 times faster than today's wired ADSL broadband. The project, which is known as Capanina, is investigating the most effective way to operate wireless communication links via HAPs, including fast propagation and resource management. The systems will include steerable antennas and the latest digital signal processing.

York Electronics Centre is coordinating the international research. The other 13 European and Japanese partners specialise in various aspects, including the development and construction of equipment for trials, the creation of business models, and free-space optical communications. The first objective of the Capanina project is to deliver high-speed broadband connections to rural areas across Europe. The team hopes to achieve this in the next four years. Ultimately, they will look at delivering broadband to moving trains. This will involve the use of 'smart' antenna systems that link with access points on the train giving passengers with laptops high-speed Internet via 'Wi-Fi'.

For more information contact David Grace, University of York, dg@ohm.york.ac.uk, www.capanina.org





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