Aerostats All Australia (AAA), a private company is proposing to extend mobile coverage to the 70 percent of Australia’s land mass not currently covered by cellular networks. The AAA solution uses tethered aerostats (lighter-than-air balloons) permanently anchored by a tether to an existing mobile base station where fiber-optic back haul exists. An aerostat—essentially a floating mobile tower—at an altitude of 1,200 meters extends typical cell site coverage by a factor of 160, from 300 square kilometers to 48,000 square kilometers. The cost to deploy aerostats is an order of magnitude less than that of building new base station infrastructure, the company claims.
As mobile technology advances with exponential rapidity, it is easy to overlook the facts that (1) many portions of the globe are being left out of this advancement for no other reason than geographic remoteness and (2) relatively low-tech solutions can potentially close the gap. This proposal from Australia is a good illustration of these facts. Isolated, low-population areas may not seem like massive revenue opportunities to operators, so spreading service there may not be attractive. However, achieving full coverage across a country can have an impact disproportionate to population size, and therefore a low-cost solution such as this one—if it works—is well worth the relatively small investment.