WHIN to Host Ribbon Cutting for Indiana’s First Telecommunications Aerostat


Wabash Heartland Innovation Network has launched the first telecommunications aerostat deployed in the United States for rural broadband this week in Reynolds, Indiana. The Aerostat will support WHIN’s research broadband network, covering ten counties in north central Indiana.

WHIN is an innovative nonprofit organization enabled by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. devoted to making the 10-county Wabash Heartland region of north-central Indiana the global epicenter of digital agriculture and next-generation manufacturing empowered by smart IoT technology. However, it’s challenging to deploy internet-enabled sensors in rural Indiana where there’s not internet access in many areas.

To this end, Wabash Heartland Innovation Network has developed the first telecommunications aerostat to be deployed in the United States for rural connectivity.

An aerostat is essentially an 80-foot tethered helium-filled balloon floating about half a mile up in the air, with telecommunications antennas affixed to the underside. The aerostat is designed to fly 1,500-2,500 feet, making it the tallest fixed asset in the state of Indiana and providing line of-sight that is better than terrestrial towers. The installed equipment will potentially provide broadband speeds for many miles from the site, and low-power transmission even further. The low-power technology will compliment WHIN’s forthcoming terrestrial sensor network of over ten towers throughout the region. This terrestrial LoRaWAN network is the largest of its type anywhere in the country.

The services will be deployed in partnership with regional internet service providers. The WHIN network will allow for millions of messages per day to flow through from sensors in agricultural fields and manufacturing facilities, informing decisions that affect the bottom line by reducing costs, increasing speed of operations and making operations more efficient.

As a 501(c)3, in partnership with its tech partners WHIN will test innovative hardware and software solutions to make broadband available in areas of its region that are unserved or underserved. WHIN will publish the technical details of the deployment and its regional impact to policymakers, industry, and researchers. WHIN’s research network will be one of the largest and most advanced rural broadband testbeds in the country.

This will be the first commercial broadband service provided by an aerostat in the country. Right here in Indiana. And it’s ready to launch!

WHIN has partnered with a multi-generation farm family from Reynolds in White County, Indiana to create a .5 acre enclosure in a corner of their bean field as our AeroSite. We have spent over a year developing this technology with the help of RTO wireless out of Massachusetts. All certifications required have also been obtained, and we are permitted to fly by the FAA with flight operations supervised by Grissom ARB and O’Hare.

On March 31, 1880, Wabash, Indiana became the "First Electrically Lighted City in the World" and now the same region will be the first to 'turn the lights on' of rural broadband using this aerial innovation.

SOURCES: Alivia Roberts, Marketing and Communications Manager, Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN): Alivia@whin.org and Jason Tennenhouse, VP Strategy and Design, Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN): Jason@whin.org.

ABOUT WHIN: WHIN is an innovative nonprofit organization devoted to making the 10-county Wabash Heartland region of north-central Indiana the global epicenter of digital agriculture and next-generation manufacturing empowered by smart IoT technology.

ABOUT RTO WIRELESS: RTO Wireless was founded in 2015 and is headquartered in Framingham, MA. RTO is a pioneer in aerostat industry and operates the first commercial deployment of an aerostat for wireless coverage. RTO supports AT&T’s FirstNet One Aerostat deployments under its Network Disaster Recovery unit. RTO offers mobile voice/data; broadband; backhaul; and pervasive IoT connectivity in a neutral host or shared infrastructure model. RTO is a Microsoft Airband partner deploying broadband services to unserved markets in rural America and is led by executives with decades of experience in the telecommunications industry. Visit www.rtowireless.com to learn more.