Your Cell Tower Just Left from O'Hare

Airborne Wireless Network Hopes to Capitalize on Airline Traffic to Provide Cellular Service

Photo courtesy of Airborne Wireless network

Imagine a planet where remote areas could get wireless without adding costly ground cell towers or providing a quick emergency network for first responders - Airborne LTE could be the solution. Some of the big carriers (Verizon and AT&T) have been testing drones to create a cellular network or mesh in the sky. Others like SmartSky Networks and Airborne Wireless Network(AWN) are actually using commercial aircraft to create a sky cellular network.  

How Airborne Wireless Network Works

AWN's vision would see existing planes fitted with small microwave relay station systems, allowing them to daisy-chain broadband signals or meshed to other nearby aircraft, ships and ground stations, providing internet access not only to passengers in-flight, but also those on the ground within a line-of-sight range of the flight path. Recently, Airborne Wireless Network completed a Proof of Concept test with two boeing 767s. Their target is not the retail but selling their service to cellular providers.

Benefits of Airborne Wireless 

AWN believes that their solution once implemented should provide low-cost, high-speed connectivity to rural areas, island nations, ships at sea, oil platforms, in addition to connectivity to commercial and private aircraft in flight. One benefit of using commercial aircraft is that there is plenty of flights , estimated to be over 100k flights per day. according to AWN, using commercial aircraft as "mini-satellites" to create the network has several advantages over regular satellites. 

No single point of failure. Since the nodes are linked in communications with several other nodes simultaneously, if a specific link goes down, the signal will find a way around the interruption, jumping to other connections as necessary. This has the potential of more reliable service and faster speeds which brings it close to its claim of "100% real-time."  Is there a possibility of dead zones? Maybe, we have not seen a coverage plan but if you can imagine that some rural and outback areas can be serviced with this scheme.

Technology to keep an eye on.

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