Telecommunications Systems Up in the Air

Article excerpt

Say hello to Halo - High Altitude Long Operation. It is the new way of getting fast two-way Internet connections.

Halo is still several years away from volume operation, but an early prototype named Proteus is already being tested.

Proteus has been built by aircraft designer Burt Rutan, who achieved fame in 1986 by building a plane which circled the globe without refuelling.

Halo relies on very efficient aeroplanes flying in circles over cities with powerful telecommunication antennae at very high altitudes - about 52,000ft - which is well into the stratosphere.

Halo plans for transmission at an incredible 16Gbps, covering a cone about 75 miles in diameter, with planes flying in eight-hour shifts around the clock.

A commercial service over a US city using Proteus planes is planned within a year by Angel Technologies.

Angel claims the costs at pounds 3 million per plane will make it considerably more efficient than the satellite networks being planned and launched at pounds 61 million a pop.

As Angel's publicity pithily puts it, satellites waste 70 per cent of their transmissions "providing broadband to penguins" by transmitting over large areas of uninhabited planet.

Halo enables cherry-picking of urban areas with dense communications requirements. Angel also claims that technology in aeroplanes can be updated every time they are on the ground, which is impossible during Leo satellites' planned seven-year life.

Halo planes will also be considerably closer to the PCs they are servicing, giving a much-reduced round-trip signal delay.

The Leo satellite race is very crowded at the moment with at least five competing services busy launching "birds" - the most ambitious being Teledesic financed by Microsoft's Bill Gates with other partners including Boeing and Motorola. …