Unmanned Aircraft to Provide Telecom Connectivity from the Stratosphere

SoftBank has launched a High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) that delivers telecommunications network connectivity from the sky to global businesses. It uses an unmanned aircraft (HAWK30) as a stratospheric telecommunications platform system that flies at altitudes of approximately 20 kilometers.

HAPS refers to systems where unmanned objects such as aircraft flying in the stratosphere can be operated like telecommunication base stations to deliver connectivity across wide areas. By utilizing HAPS, SoftBank will be able to build stable Internet connection environments at locations unserved by telecommunication networks, such as mountainous terrain, remote islands and developing countries. Furthermore, by efficiently interconnecting with current telecommunication networks, SoftBank will be able to realize wide-area connectivity that spans both the sky and the ground to enable drone utilization, as well as contribute to the adoption of IoT and 5G. Since HAPS can provide stable telecommunications networks without being affected by situations on the ground, the technology is also expected to help assist rescue and recovery efforts during times of disasters.

HAWK30, the unmanned aircraft for stratospheric telecommunications platform developed by HAPSMobile, measures approximately 78 meters long. Powered by solar panels on its wings that house 10 propellers, HAWK30 can fly at speeds of approximately 110 kilometers per hour on average. Since the HAWK30 flies at high altitudes above the clouds, its solar panels are continually powered by sunlight. The UAV can also be flown for long periods that range up to a number of months since it takes advantage of the stratosphere’s climate, which sees winds that are relatively gentle year-round.

The telecommunications network to be delivered to the ground by HAWK30 will use a system that does not interfere with the networks of terrestrial base stations. Furthermore, smooth handovers between networks provided by terrestrial base stations and by HAWK30 will also be possible. As a result, communication disruption will not occur even when a person using a smartphone moves from a base station covered area to a HAWK30 covered area.

With a view to providing sky-based telecommunications networks that utilize HAPS globally, HAPSMobile will conduct research and development and flight tests while coordinating with the relevant authorities in various countries and giving consideration to business-related regulations. HAPSMobile is targeting 2023 for “HAWK30” mass production and service launch.

The unmanned aircraft has been built through HAPSMobile, a joint venture between SoftBank and US-based company AeroVironment.

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