The company said the new offering will allow U.S. carriers to rollout 5G and IoT across rural areas

Massachusetts-based communications infrastructure provider Altaeros has launched what it claims to be the world’s first commercially available aerial cell tower.

The new cell tower, dubbed SuperTower ST200, uses an aerostat (or aerial balloon) platform, combined with automation and control software, to deploy radios and antennas over four times higher than traditional cell towers, according to Altaeros.

The ST200 was tested with half a dozen high-capacity Ericsson LTE radios and three high-gain Matsing lens antennas in southern New Hampshire. During initial testing, users were able to stream high-definition video at distances well beyond the reach of a typical cell site, Altaeros said, even in the hills and forests of New England. The company said it is initially deploying SuperTowers in partnership with carriers in the U.S., with plans to “quickly expand internationally.”

Altaeros, which is backed by Softbank, highlighted that service providers have struggled to offer coverage in rural areas due to the high cost of building large networks of remote towers in areas with few subscribers. In its 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, the Federal Communications Commission reported that over 24 million Americans still lack broadband internet, and huge areas of rural America remain unserved or underserved.

Altaeros said that the SuperTower ST200 offers carriers the possibility to accelerate the rollout of new technologies such as 5G and IoT in rural markets.

“There is an immense need for a better way to bring connectivity to those who have been left behind by the current generation of infrastructure,” said Ben Glass, Altaeros’ CEO. “We’re proud to be a part of the solution that will bridge this divide.”

The ST200 was launched after over eight years of aerostat research and development by Altaeros. The new product was also designed to work with many different telecom systems from any number of vendors, the company said. Building upon prior versions, proprietary automation and control software keep the aerial cell tower in place despite changing weather and environmental conditions and ensures a stable platform for the telecommunication equipment, the company said. Multiple tethers connect the aerostat to the ground and transmit power and data to the airborne equipment, which is key to providing greater capacity than other aerial communication systems, according to Altaeros.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity this application unlocks for both Ericsson and our customers,” said Amy McCune, head of customer unit regional carriers for Ericsson North America. “Our customers, especially those operating in rural markets, have been searching for unique and innovative solutions to expand coverage to their communities.”

Besides, Softbank, Altaeros’ key investors include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Suhail Bahwan Group, Ratan N. Tata and others.

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