Russian Spyplanes to Provide Broadband?

Dennis Faas's picture

An ambitious scheme could see Russian spy planes provide broadband Internet services.

The scheme would use Myasishchev M-55 planes to plug gaps in Russia's patchy satellite coverage. They would also be used in areas where the telecoms system has been damaged or destroyed. Because the planes are designed to fly at high altitude, they can provide coverage to a much wider ground area.

The planes, which are equivalent to the American U-2s, were originally designed to intercept US spy balloons. They've since been transferred to scientific uses such as studying the arctic stratosphere. An existing M-55 will be used for initial tests of the Russian scheme, with a demonstration scheduled for next February in Malaysia. (Source: Cellular News)

Rumours of the new scheme stem from a blog post on the Russian news agency RIA Novosti's website. Political commentator Andrei Kislyako says an unnamed Western firm is negotiating with the Myasishchev Design Bureau to resume production of the plane, last built in 1994.

Kislyako says the M-55 is the ideal model for such a purpose: it flies at up to 21.5km high and could carry the large weight involved in communication equipment. He adds that the Russian military already uses aircraft for its own communication relays. (Source: Novosti)

But critics question whether the scheme is financially viable. Mobile technology blogger Carlo Longino says "the economics of running such a network for consistent, around-the-clock public commercial use remain prohibitive at best. While using Soviet spy planes sounds a lot cooler than some big balloons, it's hardly likely to prove any more feasible." (Source: Mobhappy)

This isn't the first plan for aerial-based broadband. Swanswire Networks has made regular announcements of its idea to provide coverage through airships. They claim a single blimp could cover an area the size of Texas. But, they have yet to produce a full-size operational model. (Source: Techdirt)

Although the Russian scheme makes sense in theory, it remains unclear whether it will be any more practical than Swansire's 'Stratellites' model.

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