700 MHz: Space Data Pitches Balloon-Based Near-Space Network

As the FCC starts the rulemaking process for the upcoming re-auction of the D Block of the 700 MHz spectrum, interested parties are offering suggestions for the business and technical aspects of the potential nationwide interoperable network.

Space Data Corp., based in Chandler, Ariz., told the FCC that balloons could be part of the answer. The company launches units resembling weather balloons, called “SkySite” platforms, each equipped with less than 6 pounds of RF equipment. Floating in “near space” at 65,000 feet or higher, above the weather patterns, the constellations can provide massive coverage for mobile networks.

The company says it’s the best solution to the problem of the last half-percent or so of the U.S. population residing in rural areas that would be the last to get coverage. Space Data already has a network in place in Texas and surrounding states, servicing petroleum industry customers, and it has a $49 million contract with the Air Force for such systems.

The company’s balloons can be quickly launched; they stay airborne 24 to 48 hours, return to Earth, and are retrieved by contractors who receive the balloons’ GPS locations by e-mail.

Space Data suggests a hybrid approach of terrestrial and near-space networks, with the near-space network filling in the rural areas. The company suggests dividing the 700 MHz licenses into urban and rural categories.