Expanding rural Internet access continues to be championed by many in the government and telecommunications industry. In fact, we previously talked about initiatives from Microsoft, Elon Musk, and others. Preventing the adverse impacts of digital redlining in underserved regions of America benefits the country in a myriad of ways.

It now appears that a new group leveraging innovative technology known as SuperTowers hopes to change the game with high-speed Internet availability in rural areas. Too many rural communities in America use Internet service providers whose only option is a satellite dish with low Internet speeds. Let’s take a closer look at their efforts to see when this new mobile broadband tech becomes reality.

A Balloon with the Mobile Broadband Power of 30 Cell Towers

The technology innovation behind SuperTowers is from a Massachusetts-based company known as Altaeros. Their design leverages a type of balloon known as an aerostat capable of carrying telecommunications equipment. News about Altaeros’s efforts appeared earlier this week in the IEEE Spectrum.


An Altaeros SuperTower in action. Photo courtesy Altaeros.

The SuperTower system relies on tethered aerostats at an altitude of 800 feet. When arrayed with the necessary receiver and transmitter equipment, one SuperTower provides mobile broadband coverage over an area of nearly 4,000 square miles. It takes around 30 cell towers to provide a similar range of service.

Needless to say, this could be a gamechanger for improving rural Internet access across the country, as long as Internet providers support the tech. The IEEE notes that bringing 4G mobile broadband to these underserved areas requires at least 37,500 new cell phone towers at a cost of nearly $12.5 billion. Altaeros hopes to accomplish a similar service level at a fraction of the price: 70 percent cheaper according to company CEO, Ben Glass.

New Mobile Internet Technology also provides Flexibility

Since SuperTowers are portable, they offer flexibility for mobile broadband Internet service, for example an event like a music festival. Altaeros enjoyed a successful test run with a prototype tower using technology from Ericsson. Automated operation is one major difference between the SuperTower and traditional aerostats requiring human operators.

If SuperTowers become widely used, providers manage an entire fleet from a remote operations center. They dispatch a ground crew whenever a problem happens with one of the towers. A restored Internet connection is the result.

While the initial prototype used 4G technology, Glass says Altaeros is ready for 5G. The technology is also more “green” than traditional cell towers, considering one SuperTower does the work of 30. “Even though we aren’t generating renewable energy, we are able to reduce the carbon footprint,” commented Glass.

Ultimately, Altaeros offers hope for Internet access to rural areas truly needing it for employment, education, and more. Are the days of sketchy satellite Internet service with costly data plans, or dial-up with a poor download speed soon to be gone? Stay tuned to Bandwidth Place for additional dispatches on fast Internet usage in the United States.