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SkyLinc to launch Broadband service using balloons
Monday 26 May 2003 17:05:00 by Andrew Ferguson

BBC News Online has a news item about a new twist to the wireless Broadband market. With wireless Internet access, antenna placement is the key to good coverage, and SkyLinc are working on a product that will place the antenna at a height of 1.5km using tethered balloons. This should produce a footprint from each balloon of around 80km.

The idea is very good and avoids a great many of the infrastructure problems in current wireless roll-outs, though a permanently tethered balloon may be a problem in areas that have existing commercial or military flight-paths.

Unfortunately for something that is some promising some unusual claims are made. The SkyLinc website claims "Full UK Broadband coverage from just 18 Base-stations !" which on the same page is qualified as meaning 87% of UK SME business locations will be accessible from only 18 LIBRA platforms, and the map showing tentative locations of the 'super cells' has significant gaps, suggesting that to get true 100% coverage a much larger number of cells are needed.

It is interesting to note that their website seems to concentrate on the SME market, and sells its access as non-contended, which is interesting as this seems to be the case only if there are less than 30,000 customers on each cell "Scale-able for up to 30,000 non-contending subscribers per super-cell".

Also it is not clear who the BBC have talked to but they say "What is more, it is would not slow down as more and more people use the service which is the case with DSL - broadband via the phone line.". This perhaps needs some qualification, ADSL is actually un-contended until you reach the exchange, then from that point on you are contended, which so long as the level is managed correctly should not be a major problem. Remember the Internet itself is a massively contended medium. If this SkyLinc technology is truly un-contended both in the wireless side and fibre back-haul, then the costs of running the service will be pretty high. For example a cell with 15,000 users at just 1Mbps each, would need 15Gbps of bandwidth, that is not a cheap leased line.

It will be nice to see a new nationally available Broadband service to compete with BT Wholesale's xDSL service, but at present it appears that SkyLinc will not be launching any service until 2004.

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