Test over Kauai broadens
communications horizon

Associated Press

Communications equipment aboard an unmanned, solar-powered plane flying 12 miles overhead successfully transmitted mobile telephone and high-definition television signals in a test of technology that aims to bring satellite systems closer to Earth.

The test of SkyTower Inc.'s telecommunications system aboard a NASA-developed prototype plane took place 65,000 feet above Kauai on Saturday, company officials said.

Developers of the technology say it will provide higher bandwidth for a host of communications systems, allowing users to videoconference over Palm Pilots or download Internet files at five times the speed of cable modems or digital subscriber line connections -- all at a fraction of today's cost.

SkyTower executives have declined to provide exact figures on how much it would cost to operate the equipment.

The system establishes a new, high-altitude wireless communications base between satellites thousands of miles in space and the world's highest communications towers.

It allows clearer transmissions of signals by bringing satellite technology closer to Earth, but keeping it high enough to avoid interference from buildings and trees.

The technology also could be used to monitor natural disasters such as hurricanes and assist emergency services, said Stuart Hindle, vice president of strategy and business development for SkyTower.

Saturday's tests involved the beaming of signals for mobile telephones and handheld devices and transmission of a high-definition television signal to the prototype plane Pathfinder-Plus.

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