updated 06:40 pm EDT, Fri May 11, 2012
Helium balloons with phone mast tech tested in Japan
Japanese cell network Softbank is testing blimps to determine if the dirigibles could be used for network coverage during natural disasters. If proved successful, the technique could be used to keep communication lines open during events such as last year's earthquake and tsunami.
Tethered balloons containing helium with a small payload of cell-tower electronics would be floated 300 feet above ground as a relay to a company truck, providing coverage for a three kilometer radius. The payload could communicate with the truck up to three miles away, which in turn would be connected to the phone network itself. Larger network carrier DoCoMo, in contrast to this plan, added more long-range masts to its own network with smaller transmitter trucks for emergency use.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs in Japan has granted permission to Softbank to conduct the trials in Aichi Prefecture, 170 miles away from Tokyo. [via PC World]