Japan's Softbank testing blimp-based emergency mobile phone system

Japan's third-largest carrier will experiment using small blimps that float 100 meters high as temporary cell towers

Softbank, which runs Japan's third-largest mobile phone network, is experimenting with using blimps as temporary cell towers for use during natural disasters.

The company said it will use helium-filled blimps that dangle antennas about 100 meters above the ground and provide mobile coverage over a radius of roughly three kilometers in a suburban landscape. Softbank will carry out trials through June of next year to test factors such as the coverage area, data speed and voice quality.

The blimps are equipped with two types of antennas, one to link up with users' cell phones and the other to exchange signals with a truck that carries a portable cell tower and is physically plugged into the company network. The trucks can be over five kilometers away from the blimps if line-of-sight is maintained.

Mobile coverage often goes down during earthquakes and other natural disasters, which cut power and damage fixed cell towers. Portions of Japan's northeast coast were without service for weeks and months after the magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit last year. DoCoMo, Japan's largest carrier, has invested in a network of large cell towers with long range and smaller truck-based towers to provide emergency coverage.

Softbank developed the blimps together with Hokkaido University. They can be constructed in various sizes but all have the same, flattened-out shape, with their height about 60 percent of their diameter.

The blimps are kept steady with guide wires, and powered via a line that is just 1.3 millimeters and teflon coated to avoid wind effects. They use an onboard fan to keep the inner pressure stable and avoid instability as the outside temperature changes.

The company said it has received permission from Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs to carry out the trials, which will use its 3G network. The trials will be carried out in Aichi Prefecture, about 270 kilometers (170 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?