Uttarakhand’s Information Technology Development Agency (ITDA) has begun the pilot stage of a balloon-based connectivity project, intended to provide basic telecoms services to remote areas of the mountainous state, the Economic Times reports. The project will use tethered aerostats fitted with cameras for surveillance, a base transceiver station (BTS) and a Wi-Fi modem to allow users within range to make calls and access the internet. According to ITDA director Amit Sinha each aerostat will cost around INR5 million (USD74,000) to set-up, can stay airborne for 14 days at a time and provide download speeds of up to 5Mbps to customers within 7.5km. ‘Anyone in the range will be able to connect to the Wi-Fi, which will be free initially,’ the official added. The first balloon for the pilot stage of the rollout was launched last week at the Dehradun IT Park.
Commenting on the project, Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said that the system would help connect the roughly 680 villages in the state that currently lack mobile connectivity or internet access. The minister noted that in addition to putting those villages ‘on the digital map’, the technology had advantages over terrestrial mobile networks in emergency situations. Referring to the devastating floods and landslides that affected the region five years ago, Mr Rawat said: ‘When disaster struck in Kedarnath in June 2013, the survivors were unreachable as mobile towers had collapsed and roads were cut off. Aerostat technology can be used in such situations for real-time monitoring, [to] act as a mobile phone tower and to guide search and rescue operations.’