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Balloons will hoist SoftBank Mobile base stations above Japan this year

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In an effort to prepare for natural disasters, Japan's SoftBank Mobile is planning to launch an emergency system of cellular base stations held aloft balloons.


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.