|Thanks to Isafmedia for the photo of the Google blimp|
Search giant Google is intending to build huge wireless networks across Africa and Asia, using high-altitude balloons and blimps.
The company is intending to finance, build and help operate networks from sub-Saharan Africa to SouthEast Asia, with the aim of connecting around a billion people to the web.
To help enable the campaign, Google has been putting together an ecosystem of low-cost smartphones running Android on low-power microprocessors. Rather than traditional infrastructure, Google's signal will be carried by high-altitude platforms - balloons and blimps - that can transmit to areas of hundreds of square kilometres.
Works great in the desert. But good luck with the blimps in tropical Africa, especially during the storms. TV Marti tried this into Cuba. Goodness knows how often they lost their tether. And it is during the storms that people need to most accurate information to make life-changing decisions.
From 2005 Tampa Bay Times
When Hurricane Dennis passed near the Florida Keys on July 9, among the damage were two large U.S. Air Force blimps, one of which is used to transmit TV Marti, the government station broadcasting to Cuba.
Known as "Fat Alberts" after the cartoon character, the blimps are burly, remote-controlled balloons tethered in the sky at 10,000 feet over an Air Force facility in the Florida Keys. One handles the TV Marti signal, while the other is part of the continental U.S. air defense network, or NORAD, using radar to monitor suspected drug flights and other potentially harmful activity.
"The warning for the storm came up late and we couldn't deflate them in time," said Sgt. Patrick Murphy, a spokesman for the Air Combat Command in Virginia, which operates the blimps.
The helium-filled aerostats are so light they are hard to control in strong winds. Maintenance staffers were able to remove the valuable payload from both blimps - radar equipment and the TV Marti transmitter - before Dennis arrived. But winds of 113 mph shredded the blimps' fabric skin.
While Air Force spokesmen say they hope to quickly replace the NORAD balloon, it could take months to get TV Marti fully operational again. One of the balloons is being examined by the manufacturer to see if it can be repaired. There are only eight Fat Alberts in the U.S. aerostat fleet. They cost about $1.3-million new.
"There's no time frame, but the last time we lost one it took many, many months to get a new one," said Joe O'Connell, spokesman for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs TV Marti as well as its radio counterpart. The OCB is a branch of the government's broadcasting agency, which also runs Voice of America.
The loss of the blimp will drastically cut TV Marti's 30 hours of weekly broadcasts. For now, its signal is broadcast by satellite four hours a week. For another four hours every Saturday afternoon - weather permitting - a modified U.S. military airplane, known as Commando Solo, also transmits TV Marti's signal from a mobile platform over the Straits of Florida.