Last week we mentioned how NTT Docomo and KDDI are working on disaster-proofing their networks, and now Japan’s other major wireless carrier is joining in with a rather lofty idea of its own. SoftBank Mobile plans to put balloon-based cellular base stations in operation within the year, allowing it to provide wireless access even if its conventional towers are knocked out of commission. The idea isn’t new — it’s been researched for years by both the military and private enterprise — but it is uncommon, and would be highly suitable to Japan’s disaster-prone geography.

To get the idea off the ground, SoftBank developed an ad-hoc wireless transmission system in collaboration with professors from Hokkaido University. When deployed, the balloons will be tethered to the ground at a height of a hundred meters, where they will provide wireless connectivity to the system’s users below. From there, a connected transmission van provides the backhaul to SoftBank’s core network with a fiber or broadband connection. The company plans to test the system in the Kiso River area in Aichi prefecture before launching the real deal later in the year.