Bringing wireless high-speed Internet access to the masses, whether they are in cities, on the plains, in the bush of Africa, or on the outback of Australia, is a goal of the recently unveiled WiMax technology I discussed yesterday. Yet one of the problems mentioned was cost, and not just for the chips but also for the transmitters. Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) entry into the WiMax chip market should help with the former, but the latter still represents a hurdle, and even with a range of 30 miles (at best), more towers will need to be built.

But what if that 30-mile coverage area could be exceeded exponentially? That's the hype surrounding the unveiling of the Stratellite, a lighter-than-air dirigible being built by Sanswire Networks, a subsidiary of GlobeTel (OTC BB: GTEL). According to the company, it has further capabilities of also providing wireless voice, video, and data services, and it believes it could have military applications as well.

The idea behind the Stratellite -- and it's just an idea ,as the company has only a prototype that it hopes to begin testing at Edwards Air Force Base in midsummer -- is to have nonflammable, helium-filled blimps fly some 13 miles (65,000 feet) up into the stratosphere. From that altitude, which is above the turbulence of the jet stream and below the flight path of actual satellites, the dirigibles would each be able to provide coverage areas of some 300,000 square miles, approximately the size of Texas. The shark-shaped blimps are expected to be smaller than the Goodyear (NYSE:GT) blimp and would feature a flatter nose than is commonly associated with dirigibles. They would be kept in orbit by electric motors powered by solar cells and would remain aloft for about 18 months before being brought down for servicing.

Companies like GlobeTel are too small, untested, and speculative to be considered as investment possibilities in Motley Fool Hidden Gems, our small-cap newsletter. Yet it was on the newsletter's dedicated discussion boards that the idea was first broached, and that's where other, more investment-worthy companies are discussed, analyzed, and dissected every day.

So let's be clear: This is a highly speculative idea from a highly speculative, penny-stock company. I would not consider investing in it anytime soon, not until the company has proved itself. As I said, the company doesn't even have an actual Stratellite built yet, only a prototype, and it needs to jump over a lot more hurdles before it can become a working business. Not only does it need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly its blimps, but it also has to get permission from NASA and the Air Force. While the company says its airships are airworthy, that still remains to be seen. The stratosphere, while largely unused, is also untested for such aircraft.

Let's also not forget the stunning failure of Motorola's (NYSE:MOT) Iridium spinoff project, which is still costing the company millions in legal fees from lawsuits filed over its demise. Satellite telephones were supposed to be the next big thing of the 1990s as markets opened in China and the former Soviet Union. They were supposed to bring mobile communications to every corner of the globe. Iridium launched 66 communications satellites into orbit but ultimately went bankrupt. Globalstar was another front-runner in the race, launching an additional 48 satellites before it, too, declared bankruptcy. A third company, Teldesic, had planned to launch as many as 288 satellites but could never generate any backing after Iridium and Globalstar failed. Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) and Boeing's (NYSE:BA) McDonnell Douglas also took a hit as their investment in launch vehicles to put all those satellites into space came to naught.

GlobeTel says one of the benefits of the Stratellite is the lower cost of the dirigible compared with satellites. It estimates one of its blimps will be about one-tenth the cost of a satellite -- $25 million to $30 million, vs. $250 million. With an ambitious goal of dozens, if not hundreds, of Stratellites, it's going to need more than the $29 million in revenues it earned all of last year. Losses for 2004 totaled $13 million.

Stratospheric telecommunications is an interesting subject, and it is fun to think about its potential, but it's definitely not one I'd be wagering any of my money on anytime soon.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not recommend investing in penny stocks. He owns shares in Goodyear but does not own any of the other stocks mentioned in the article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.