A decidedly whimsical business model could bring wireless Internet and cell service to wide swaths of rural America, slinging signals from balloons drifting toward the edge of space. Don’t scoff—the system is already providing services for truckers and oil companies, courtesy of Space Data Corp., and Google is so intrigued it might buy the little company, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Aided by dairy farmers, Space Data releases about 10 balloons into the atmosphere each day. Like most balloons, they eventually burst in the stratosphere, but the transponders they carry drift to Earth on parachutes, where adventurous GPS-toting hobbyists retrieve them. The system could change the economics of connectivity in sparsely populated areas where running cable or building towers isn’t economically viable.