Balloons offer mobile phone reception

Air balloons are the latest trick being used to give people living in rural areas of the US coverage on their mobile phones. Those in areas far from traditional mobile phone masts can struggle with their levels of reception, which can range from little and flaky to none. But a US technology firm has developed a clever way of solving the problem.

SpaceData sends balloons 30,000 metres up into the stratosphere. The balloons are equipped with a shoebox-sized electronics box, making them a mobile base station of sorts, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Out of reach

Using this mobile technology, people living in rural areas - as well as oil companies and truck drivers - can get access to mobile phone networks that are normally out of reach.

There is a downside to the new technology however; the balloons only survive 24 hours in the thin air at that altitude. When they burst, the electronic box gently makes its way back down to earth with the help of mini parachutes.

Creates jobs

A less obvious benefit of the new balloon mobile technology is that it creates extra jobs for farmers and persistent hobby collectors. SpaceData said it sends up 10 balloons every day to replace old ones. This task is mainly done by farmers in need of extra cash - they're paid $50 (£26) per balloon launched.

Anyone who uses GPS technology to find one of the electronic boxes and returns it to SpaceData receives $100 (£51).

The SpaceData balloons have even attracted interest from search giant Google. According to rumours, Google is interested in buying the firm.