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CEO: Cell tower blimp tested in Fremont could solve a 'difficult problem'

Union Leader Correspondent

April 23. 2018 12:45AM
This image shows what a Super Tower to be tested in Fremont will look like. (COURTESY)

FREMONT — Ben Glass envisions a day when a large blimp known as a Super Tower hovers over rural areas in New England and other parts of the world, providing the wireless broadband coverage area of as many as 30 cell towers.

“We’ve talked to more and more people who are trying to solve the challenge of connectivity. This could help solve a very difficult problem,” said Glass, who is co-founder and CEO of Somerville, Mass.-based Altaeros.

The company, founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is in the midst of building its first permanent research and development center near a gravel operation at 662 Main St. in Fremont, where it plans to test the Super Tower, which looks a lot like a blimp.

The tethered tower uses helium gas to float, is connected to a stationary ground system, and will rise to a maximum height of 850 feet.

Glass described the site as the company’s “permanent base of operations.”

“We’re headquartered in the Boston area, and we wanted somewhere that was relatively close to Boston and was a site that was conducive to the products we’re developing. Fremont is nice because it’s also relatively rural, and it’s the type of community that hopefully this product can benefit,” Glass said.

The Super Tower is essentially an airborne cell tower that Glass said can cover a much larger area than a typical steel tower, resulting in reduced costs for providing cell coverage.

While the tower would be stationary, Glass said the company is eyeing a “next generation product” involving a tower that’s “rapidly deployable.”

“In a natural disaster we could bring it and quickly deploy to provide connectivity in those types of situations,” he said.

Glass insisted that the Super Tower would pose less of a health risk than traditional cell towers because it would be high in the air and farther away from any residences.

“There really isn’t any concern about health impacts,” he said, adding that there would be “much less exposure” and that the radios are turned off when the tower is lowered.

Glass also said the company has worked hard to create a Super Tower that’s safe and won’t accidentally come down during testing. But if a problem did occur the property is large enough for the tower to land within its boundaries, he said.

Glass declined to comment Wednesday on the progress being made on construction of the research and development center and would not disclose details on when the first Super Tower will be tested in Fremont.

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