Oceus demos balloons for public-safety LTE use

A high-altitude balloon platform designed for public-safety communications got a tryout earlier this month as Oceus Networks aimed to show how an LTE-enabled balloon platform could be used to quickly deliver broadband services to first responders following an emergency or natural disaster.

Oceus Networks President Randy Fuerst on-site filling one of the four balloons used in the trial. Credit: Oceus Networks

Oceus partnered with high-altitude balloon specialist Space Data on the trial platform. Space Data's SkySite communications system housed an Oceus Networks Xiphos LTE network in a box to provide broadband connectivity.

The team used Band 14 data modems and smartphones from Motorola Solutions to connect with the airborne LTE network. The payload, launched in northern Colorado, traveled nearly 200 miles and reached an altitude of 75,000 feet.

A blog entry from Oceus CEO Doug Smith noted that the test coincidentally occurred on World UFO Day and, not surprisingly, sparked calls and emails to local TV stations from residents who saw the platform in the sky.

The experiment was designed to measure the interference of high-altitude airborne 700 MHz Band 14 LTE systems on existing ground-based cellular networks and support future first responder broadband initiatives, said Oceus.

The company noted the demo supports the FCC's Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA) initiative, which is addressing the use of DACAs to provide communications when terrestrial communications infrastructure is severely damaged or unavailable. Oceus said it is compiling results from its recent test and expects to formally file a report with the FCC in its DACA docket.

The Colorado test was conducted in coordination with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program. PSCR has been instrumental in performing interoperability research on behalf of the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet), which is charged with building the National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).

The use of high-altitude balloons for broadband communications attracted considerable publicity last month when Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) announced its Project Loon, an effort to bring airborne broadband service to rural and remote areas. The company launched 30 balloons for an initial pilot in the Canterbury area of New Zealand. Google contends it is feasible to deploy a ring of radio-equipped balloons to fly around the globe on stratospheric winds 12 miles above the earth and deliver Internet access at 3G or better speeds.

For more:
- see this Oceus release and this blog entry
- see this KUSA-TV report

Slideshow: FirstNet's ace in the hole is the PSCR labs

Related articles:
Political issues, spying concerns could drag at Google's Project Loon
Google contends Project Loon, balloon-powered broadband, is crazy enough to work
PSCR labs ready to share test results with FirstNet

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