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5G broadband is entering the stratosphere

HAPS maker Stratospheric Systems successfully tested 5G transmitted to earth from 45,000 feet

Stratospheric Platforms, British telecommunications technology developer announced this week a successful demonstration of 5G broadband connectivity using an airborne antenna. The company said it maintained a 5G signal for five hours from a “stratospheric 5G mast” operating at 45,000 feet (about 14 km), with download speeds of up to 90 megabits per second.

Richard Deakin, CEO of Stratospheric Platforms, called the event a “momentum” for the telecommunications industry, proving that 5G can be reliably transmitted from the upper atmosphere.

Engineers connected a 5G base station, airborne antenna and mobile retail devices during the test. The antenna projected a 5G signal over an area of ​​450 square kilometers (173.75 square miles), the company said. They made three-way video calls between the test site on land, a mobile device controlled from a boat, and a control site 950 km (590.3 miles) away.

“Additional ground and helicopter tests demonstrated that a user could stream 4K video to a mobile phone with an average latency of 1 millisecond above the network speed. The signal strength tests, using a 5G-enabled device traveling at 100 km/h, have proven full interoperability with masts on the ground, and consistent ‘five bars’ in known white spots,” the company said.

Forging the future of 5G at high altitude

Stratospheric Platforms Ltd is one of many companies working on High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS), an alternative to 5G terrestrial antenna systems and one of many forms of Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) that are being integrated into 5G standards.

HAPS platforms use buoyancy (lighter than aerial systems like hot air balloons) or fixed-wing aircraft designs. The UK-based company was founded in 2014 and Deutsche Telekom became a major investor in 2016.

Stratospheric Platforms is currently developing an unmanned fixed-wing lightweight composite aircraft called the Stratomast. The platform carries a phased array antenna with a power of 20 kilowatts. The Stratomast will be able to fly for a week without refueling, the company says, covering up to 140 km (87 miles) with coverage. The company said the antenna works with all current and future standards. Beam coverage can be shaped to match specific shapes – to conform to highways, canals or shipping lanes, for example.

Unlike some proposed and prototype fixed-wing HAPS systems that use solar panels and batteries to stay aloft, the Stratomast uses hydrogen fuel cell technology. This ties into the platform’s green credentials – Stratospheric Platforms notes that hydrogen is a sustainable and green source of energy, and that hydrogen fuel cell engines emit only water vapor in as waste.