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Can airborne radios connect the IoT?

Airborne radios may play an important role in connecting the billions of devices expected to comprise the internet of things. Japan’s SoftBank, which has been one of the most aggressive wireless carriers when it comes to IoT initiatives, recently announced its second investment in a Boston startup trying to launch airborne radios. The company is called Altaeros and its focus is tethered airborne equipment.

Altaeros calls its tethered balloon the SuperTower, and says it will provide coverage equivalent to a network of up to 30
conventional cell towers. The company sees it as a way for carriers to make LTE and 5G affordable for rural communities. In addition to SoftBank, Altaeros investors include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Suhail Bahwan Group, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and RNT Associates, wholly owned by the former chairman of Tata Sons. In addition to airborne radios, Altaeros is working on airborne wind turbines for clean energy generation.

Connectivity for the IoT is another focus area for Altaeros. This summer the company recruited software engineering interns to work on user interfaces, M2M communication, and monitoring and data logging systems.

Ligado Networks
A different kind of airborne radio system is envisioned by Ligado Networks, the company formerly known as LightSquared. Ligado wants to enable the internet of things with a system that it calls an advanced satellite terrestrial network.

“With our new model, the satellite will provide the coverage, while the terrestrial component will enable higher-bandwidth demands – like real-time video feeds,” said Ligado CEO Doug Smith in a speech delivered this June.

Ligado’s network uses spectrum in the 1500 – 1700 MHz bands, which it calls “mid-band spectrum.” When the company was called LightSquared, it ended up in bankruptcy because it could not convince the Federal Communications Commission that its signals weren’t going to interfere with GPS communications in that band. Now Ligado is facing similar complaints from Iridium, which also wants to use satellites to connect IoT devices.

Airborne Wireless Network
Airborne Wireless Network is a public company that wants to create a high-speed broadband airborne wireless network by linking commercial aircraft in flight. The company wants to put routers on aircraft to create a network that would pick up where undersea cables, ground based fiber and satellites do not provide coverage.

Airborne Wireless recently signed a deal with a laser communications company called ViaLight. The two companies said ViaLight will “develop, design, test and manufacture a custom hybrid synchronized laser based communication system to link neighboring aircraft and/or ground stations on Airborne Wireless Network’s Infinitus Super Highway, which will provide a low-cost, broadband wireless communication infrastructure by using and modifying existing, small, lightweight, low-power relay station equipment that will be installed onboard aircraft.”

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