Space Data Corp. recently conducted successful trials of its CDMA SkySite®, a major milestone in the development of economically practical wireless voice and data communications to vast areas with sparse population. It is expected that each SkySite will be able to provide coverage over approximately 20,000 square miles.

During two trial flights, a prototype miniaturized CDMA 1X-RTT base station was carried aloft over a remote area in western Utah by the SkySite balloon platform to altitudes as high as 60,000 feet. At that point, the BTS, operating in the 1900 MHz PCS band, was used to carry calls from, to, and between ordinary CDMA handsets located on the ground approximately 60 miles away. Call quality was excellent, with low frame error rates on both the forward and reverse channels. Backhaul was provided by a high capacity digital microwave link operating in the 2.4 GHz band. After completion of each trial, the BTS “payload” was released, parachuted to the ground and recovered intact.

The successful trial confirmed the technical feasibility of serving ordinary wireless handsets from substantial distances using the SkySite system. Applications include serving remote areas of low population densities, “fill-in” for coverage gaps in rural networks, and providing emergency communications in areas where terrestrial systems are out of service due to widespread disaster situations.

“There are many parts of the Western US where aside from intermittent highway corridor and single tower small towns there is no cellular service for miles and miles,” stated Jerry Knoblach, CEO of Space Data. “We are grateful to the carrier that provided spectrum for this breakthrough for rural America and look forward to offering all CDMA carriers the ability to provide ubiquitous coverage.”

Because SkySite balloons are inexpensive to produce and launch, and SkySite payloads can be recovered and reused, the cost of delivering wireless service from a SkySite network is surprisingly reasonable – far lower than the buildout of terrestrial networks or providing comparable service from satellites plus the user can use a standard single modulation handset.