Sunday, 28 April 2019

Altaeros’ Autonomous Tethered Aerial Cell Tower, SuperTower ST200

Couple of months back, Altaeros announced "world’s first commercial aerial cell tower". This is a contentious point as the UK MNO, EE has already claimed "World’s first commercial use of Helikite ‘air mast’ technology showcased with 360° live stream over 4G" back in 2017. While we can argue that EE's aerostat was a Helikite while this is something different, they are both aerial cell towers.

Their press release says:

The SuperTower uses a proven aerostat platform, combined with innovative automation and control software, to deploy radios and antennas over four times higher than traditional cell towers allowing carriers to efficiently cover substantially more area than traditional towers. The ST200 was tested with six high capacity Ericsson 4G LTE radios and three highgain Matsing lens antennas. During initial testing users were able to stream high-definition video at distances well beyond the reach of a typical cell site, even in the hills and forests of New England. Altaeros is initially deploying SuperTowers in partnership with carriers in the US, with plans to quickly expand internationally.

The website specifiesThe Altaeros SuperTower is designed to meet this challenge. Each SuperTower deploys radios and antennas over 800 feet above ground level. Greater height and flexibility mean a single SuperTower replaces fifteen regular cell towers at 60% lower cost, shifting the rural networks from a loss-making endeavor to a growth engine for carriers.

Mobile World Live provides some more details about it's trials:

Ben Glass, CEO and CTO of the company, told Mobile World Live (MWL) the company is testing the system with “some of the big carriers that are household names”, with a view to deploying it in the latter part of 2019 and early 2020.

The executive did not confirm which operators are testing the technology. However, applications filed with the Federal Communications Commission show it conducted FDD-LTE tests in PCS spectrum and more recently trialled TD-LTE at 2.5GHz.

A Sprint representative told MWL it allowed Altaeros to use some of its 2.5GHz spectrum for the latter testing, but did not confirm whether it is evaluating the technology for itself.

Verizon flat denied it is involved: AT&T and T-Mobile US had not responded at the time of publishing.

Here is their video providing more details:


The website specifies potential applications for Altaeros’ technology include:

  • Cellular Networks
  • Industrial/Agricultural IOT
  • Fixed Wireless
  • Environmental Monitoring and Agribusiness
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Public Safety

Couple of important points from the FAQ's

What if a tether breaks loose?

The Altaeros SuperTower has three load-bearing tethers. If one of the tethers breaks loose, the remaining tethers will reel in the shell. In the very unlikely scenario that all three tethers break loose, an automatic vent will begin to release helium to allow the SuperTower to slowly descend to the ground. Similar safety features have been reliably demonstrated on hundreds of existing aerostats.

How fast can the SuperTower be deployed?

Once on site, the Altaeros SuperTower can be inflated and deployed in a few days. Our system does not require a crane or cement foundation for its installation.

In disaster recovery kinds of use case, air masts like these may need to be deployed for a few days to weeks. It is essential that they can reach their destination quickly. Having reached their destination, they also need to be deployed in a few hours. On the other hand there are many other scenarios where these kinds of air masts, as long as they can stay up for months, be useful for something or other. We look forward to hearing more about them in future.

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