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Softbank launches radio relay balloon for quake-hit areas

A balloon that was launched by the SoftBank Group Corp. to improve the communications environment of mobile phones is seen in the city of Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture, on April 18. (Photo courtesy of the SoftBank Group Corp.)

KUMAMOTO -- SoftBank Group Corp. on April 18 launched a balloon equipped with a disaster-area radio relay system to improve the communications environment following a succession of earthquakes centered in Kumamoto Prefecture.

It is the first time such an initiative has been undertaken in Japan during a disaster.

With the number of vehicles heading from Fukuoka Prefecture toward the Aso region in Kumamoto Prefecture expected to increase, it was decided to undertake the initiative via balloon so that communications would not be interrupted among those who were headed to the disaster area to provide assistance.

Mobile phone use was to be made available within a 5-10 kilometer radius of the balloon, which took off near Takasu Park in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture.

According to company representatives, quake-related communication problems were not experienced in the region where the balloon was launched -- but local reception in the area is poor since it lies in a mountainous area.

Because balloons can only fly during the daytime due to safety concerns, reception remains poor at nighttime. Additionally, the balloon is unable to take off in inclement weather.

The company said that it expects to use two of its 10 balloons, depending on circumstances in the disaster area.

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