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Aerial Cell Tower Designed to Provide Cheap Rural Coverage

Massachusetts-based communications infrastructure provider, Altaeros, has officially launched the world’s first commercially available aerial cell tower, the SuperTower ST200. Altaeros successfully completed initial testing of the ST200 at its R&D Center in southern New Hampshire. The SuperTower uses an aerostat platform, combined with automation and control software, to deploy radios and antennas over four times higher than traditional cell towers allowing carriers to efficiently cover substantially more area than traditional towers.

The ST200 was tested with six high-capacity Ericsson 4G LTE radios and three high-gain Matsing lens antennas. During initial testing users were able to stream high-definition video at distances well beyond the reach of a typical cell site, even in the hills and forests of New England. Altaeros is initially deploying “SuperTowers” in partnership with carriers in the United States, with plans to quickly expand internationally.

The launch of the first commercial SuperTower marks a turning point for modern, high-speed connectivity in traditionally under-served rural communities, according to Altaeros. By reducing the number of sites needed in rural markets by over 90 percent, the SuperTower offers a “quick and inexpensive” path to expand service. It can also accelerate the rollout of new technologies such as 5G and IoT in rural markets.

“There is an immense need for a better way to bring connectivity to those who have been left behind by the current generation of infrastructure,” said Ben Glass, Altaeros’ CEO. “We’re proud to be a part of the solution that will bridge this divide.”

The ST200 is the culmination of over eight years of aerostat research and development by Altaeros. Designed to work with many different telecom systems from any number of vendors, the ST200 is Altaeros’ largest and most capable autonomous aerostat platform to date, and the first to be made commercially available. Building upon prior versions, proprietary automation and control software keeps the aerial cell tower in place in changing weather and environmental conditions and ensures a stable platform for the telecommunication equipment.

Multiple tethers connect the aerostat to the ground and transmit power and data to the airborne equipment, which is key to providing significantly greater capacity than other aerial communication systems.

Wireless ‘SuperTowers’ Connect Rural Areas

The “SuperTower,” which uses a tethered aerostat (industrial blimp), has been developed to transmit wireless signals across rural areas, roughly the same coverage area of 30 conventional cell towers. Boston-based startup Altaeros recently demonstrated in Fremont, New Hampshire, using an Ericsson Radio System to offer high-speed LTE with streaming video.

Altaeros partnered with Ericsson first deploy a multi-sector LTE base station on a SuperTower in late 2017 in rural Maine. The aerostat uses helium gas to float at an altitude of 850 feet.

The SuperTower costs up to 70 percent less to roll out that the terrestrial coverage equivalent, according to Ben Glass, CEO and CTO of Altaeros. It is designed to combine the broad coverage advantages of satellites and aerial platforms with seamless integration with existing handsets of terrestrial cell towers.

Altaeros, founded in 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has received funding from SoftBank Group Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the National Science Foundation, among others. The company has also developed an airborne wind turbine to capture clean energy.

SuperTowers, which can also be deployed for disaster relief or special events on a temporary basis, will be available to operators in late 2018.