Japan's Softbank testing blimp-based emergency mobile phone system

Japan's third-largest carrier will experiment using small blimps that float 100 meters high as temporary cell towers

Softbank, which runs Japan's third-largest mobile phone network, is experimenting with using blimps as temporary cell towers for use during natural disasters.

The company said it will use helium-filled blimps that dangle antennas about 100 meters above the ground and provide mobile coverage over a radius of roughly three kilometers in a suburban landscape. Softbank will carry out trials through June of next year to test factors such as the coverage area, data speed and voice quality.

The blimps are equipped with two types of antennas, one to link up with users' cell phones and the other to exchange signals with a truck that carries a portable cell tower and is physically plugged into the company network. The trucks can be over five kilometers away from the blimps if line-of-sight is maintained.

Mobile coverage often goes down during earthquakes and other natural disasters, which cut power and damage fixed cell towers. Portions of Japan's northeast coast were without service for weeks and months after the magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit last year. DoCoMo, Japan's largest carrier, has invested in a network of large cell towers with long range and smaller truck-based towers to provide emergency coverage.

Softbank developed the blimps together with Hokkaido University. They can be constructed in various sizes but all have the same, flattened-out shape, with their height about 60 percent of their diameter.

The blimps are kept steady with guide wires, and powered via a line that is just 1.3 millimeters and teflon coated to avoid wind effects. They use an onboard fan to keep the inner pressure stable and avoid instability as the outside temperature changes.

The company said it has received permission from Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs to carry out the trials, which will use its 3G network. The trials will be carried out in Aichi Prefecture, about 270 kilometers (170 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service
Show Comments



Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?