Look, Up in the Sky . . .

It's weather balloons to GPS' rescue!
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This story appears in the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

While urban dwellers often experience iffy wireless reception, anyone working in America's sparsely populated middle is lucky to find a signal at all. Chandler, Arizona, start-up Space Data has a low-cost solution that could bring the whole spectrum of wireless services to the wide, open spaces where cash-strapped carriers haven't been anxious to tread.

It turns out that wireless signals-from pagers, SMS, voice-that max out at 15 miles in any direction from an earth-bound tower will travel 10 times as far when beamed from a transmitter bouncing along the stratosphere. There are more than enough National Weather Service balloons launched daily to provide coverage from sea to shining sea, so Space Data CEO Jerry Knoblach is asking the agency for a lift in return for badly needed GPS capability.

This quarter, Knoblach plans to bring pager and telematics services to fly-over country and give autos better emergency service coverage out on the plains. Space Data's GPS/ communication solution is cheap enough to be installed in truck trailers, which outnumber truck cabs three to one. If you're sending a load of lettuce or badly needed machine parts across country, you'd care if that trailer got sidelined in some IHOP parking lot.

Space Data services will be provided by existing carriers; and, sometime in the first half of 2004, Knoblach hopes to add voice calls to the mix.

Edition: July 2017

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