Most people assume that if companies like Google decide to build wireless networks using 700 Mhz spectrum, due to be auctioned off in January, such a build-out would take years.
Actually, thanks to some new, alternative networking technologies, that does not have to be the case. If Google were to adopt a non-traditional approach to a network build-out, it could, potentially, have a nationwide network up and running in a matter of months.
I just talked to Gerald Knoblach, CEO of a company called Space Data, which, for the past three years, has had a wireless network up and running covering Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. This is no ordinary network: Instead of installing cellular towers, Space Data has effectively shrunk the technology and attached it — in 12-pound packages — to weather balloons. Because these balloons fly 1,000 feet above ground and encounter no interference, they are able to broadcast cell-phone signals to a much wider area than traditional cell towers. The implications are huge.
Space Data believes it can cover the whole country with a WiMax broadband network with just 370 balloons. That compares with some 22,000 towers that would be needed in a traditional deployment. "A company can save a couple of billion in build-out costs," says Knoblach.
While this technology seems really out there, Space Data already has military, healthcare and oil company customers using it -- and paying for it. In fact, the company, which has raised $78 million in debt and equity to date, is cash-flow break-even. Not bad for a start-up.
Now, Space Data is hoping that one of the winners of the 700 Mhz auction will deploy its technology. After all, whoever wins that spectrum will need to build a network quickly, to adhere to the Federal Communications Commission's requirements for the spectrum.
Who knows if Space Data's idea will take flight. But if a non-traditional player like Google decides to jump into wireless services, it could give a non-traditional network approach a chance.