According to the Wall Street Journal, Google is considering either a partnership or a full-on buyout of Space Data Corp—a company that provides balloon-based wireless networks. If you think that seems a little strange, consider this: the balloons can help bring wireless service to individuals in rural areas and they can be launched on the cheap—about $50 to launch the balloon, $1500 for the receiver, and a $100 finder's fee for recovery after the balloon returns to earth.
The one major problem is that the balloons only survive for about 24 hours before they are destroyed in the upper atmosphere. However, if that shortcoming can be overcome, Google could build wireless networks using a 700 Mhz spectrum in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of traditional cell towers. And as a BusinessWeek article from last month revealed, Space Data believes it can cover the whole country with a WiMax broadband network with just 370 balloons. Compare that with the 22,000 or so towers that would be necessary using traditional methods. It may be non-traditional but it is a dammed good idea. My mind has just been blown. [WSJ and BusinessWeek via TechCrunch and Broadband Reports]