Broadband from on high

A 5.6 million Euro project involving 14 partners from across Europe and Japan aims to make Broadband available to remote rural areas and even moving trains by deploying High Altitude Platforms.

A 5.6 million Euro project involving 14 partners from across Europe and Japan aims to make Broadband available to remote rural areas and even moving trains by deploying High Altitude Platforms (HAPs).

HAPs are airships or solar-powered aircraft, which are permanently located in the skies at an altitude of 20 km, above the altitude of aeroplanes but below that of satellites.

This solution is said to be cheaper and more efficient than current technologies because HAPs do not require underground cabling or masts – which can be both expensive and inconvenient – to deliver broadband.

HAPs can also serve mass markets with high-speed communications – unlike satellites. The HAPs technology is said to be ideal for rural, suburban and other hard-to-reach areas, including users who are on the move.

‘The opportunities offered by HAPs are exciting,’ said Dr. David Grace, the project’s Principal Scientific Officer who is based in the Communications Research Group in York University’s Department of Electronics.

‘Demand for fast communication is increasing all over the world, and this technology offers a unique way of delivering broadband inexpensively to people at home, in the office, and on the move.’

The project will deliver broadband connections which are 2,000 times faster than via a traditional modem and 200 times faster than today’s ‘wired’ ADSL broadband.

The University of York leads the project, known as ‘Capanina’, which is named after the restaurant in Italy where initial discussions on the concept were held. Researchers at York will investigate the most effective way to operate wireless communication links via HAPs, including fast propagation and resource management.

The team will develop HAPs-based systems which can use the spectrum efficiently to reach all areas. These systems will include steerable antennas which will use the latest digital signal processing.

Other European and Japanese partners will specialise in various aspects of the system, including the development and construction of equipment for trials, the creation of business models, and free-space optical communications that use ‘line of sight’ light beams to communicate at high speed between two locations.

The first objective of the Capanina project is to deliver broadband connections to rural areas across Europe. The team hopes to achieve this in the next four years.

Ultimately, the team will look at delivering Broadband to moving trains. This will involve ‘smart’ antenna systems, which link with access points on the train. This will give passengers high-speed Internet connections from ‘Wi-Fi’ enabled lap-tops.

The other CAPANINA partners are the Jozef Stefan Institute (Slovenia), CERCOM/Dipartimento di Elettronica – Politecnico di Torino (Italy), EuroConcepts s.r.l (Italy), Universitat Politecnica Catalunya (Spain), Carlo Gavazzi Space (Italy), Budapest University of Technology and Economics (Hungary), BTexact Technologies (UK), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (Germany), SkyLINC (UK), Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (Switzerland), Contraves Space (Switzerland) and the Communications Research Laboratory (Japan).