A company called Space Data has come up with an innovative way to provide wireless services to rural America. Located in Arizona, the company launches hydrogen filled balloons 20 miles into the stratosphere with “a shoe box-size payload of electronics that acts like a mini cellphone “tower” covering thousands of square miles below.

These “floating cell phone towers” can serve an area that would normally require 40 towers; and compared to the extremely high costs involved with wiring rural areas, the concept is pretty enticing. There is however an issue: the balloons are only good for 24 hours. After that, the balloons rupture and the electronics float back to earth on tiny little parachutes where a team of 20 hobbyists with GPS devices are paid to track them down for $100 a pop. Space Data also employees a small team of ‘launchers’ to send the balloons up – typically hiring dairy farmers and mechanics at small airports across the South West.

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