Forget mobile phone masts, forget the new Sky Tree which is by far the tallest telecommunication tower in Tokyo. Softbank Mobile Corp. has developed a balloon which can transmit mobile signal around a 3km radius.

Tethered 100 metres above the ground, the balloons appear similar to a barrage balloon and the aim is to take them to disaster areas in the event of loss of signal. On the ground will be a wireless mobile unit which will provide internet connection in constant communication with the radio mast. Though the 3km radius may be fairly small, it is expected that the balloons will be able to form temporary networks, expanding their reach.

Forming a temporary base station, the technology could be invaluable for relief effort and communication and has been developed in conjunction with those familiar with problems faced in Tohoku in 2011. Initial relief efforts could, say the developers, have been more efficient with greater access to communication. And these balloons are a novel way of getting something in the air even if the ground is unstable or very little space is available.

Hokkaido University scientists have worked on the recent trial runs and the technology appears, according to Nikkei, to be in place for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to license the antenna in the coming weeks. They company also hopes to take the technology to developing nations as well as other disaster-hit areas as infrastructure grows and mobile phones become even more globally ubiquitous.