Stratospheric Platforms demos HAPS based 5G; will it succeed where Google & Facebook failed?

UK-based Stratospheric Platforms (SPL) claims it’s demonstrated the world’s first successful High Altitude Platform Satellite (HAPS) based 5G base station.   The 5G coverage from the stratosphere  demonstration took place in Saudi Arabia.

–> That’s quite a claim since there are no ITU-R standards or 3GPP implementation specs for HAPS or satellite 5G.  Current 5G standards and 3GPP specs are for terrestrial wireless coverage.

A SPL stratospheric mast – which for the purposes of the demonstration had been installed on a civilian aircraft – delivered high-speed coverage to a 5G mobile device from an altitude of 14 kilometres to a geographical area of 450 square kilometres.

SPL says their The High Altitude Platform (HAP) will be certified from the outset for safe operations in civil airspace. Some attributes are the following:

  • The HAP will have endurance of over a week on station due its lightweight structure and huge power source.
  • Designed to be strong enough to fly through the turbulent lower altitudes to reach the more benign environment of the stratosphere, where it will hold-station.
  • A wingspan of 60 metres and a large, reliable power source enables a 140kg communications payload.
  • Design life of over 10 years with minimal maintenance, repair and overhaul costs
  • Extensive use of automation in manufacturing processes will result in a low cost platform.

Source: Stratospheric Platforms

The joint team established three-way video calls between the land-based test site, a mobile device operated from a boat and a control site located 950 km away. Further land and heliborne tests demonstrated a user could stream 4K video to a mobile phone with an average latency of 1 millisecond above network speed. Signal strength trials, using a 5G enabled device moving at 100 km/h, proved full interoperability with ground-based masts and a consistent ‘five bars’ in known white spots.

Richard Deakin, CEO Stratospheric Platforms said, “Stratospheric Platforms has achieved a world-first. This is a momentous event for the global telecoms industry proving that a 5G telecoms mast flying near the top of the earth’s atmosphere can deliver stable broadband 5G internet to serve mobile users with ubiquitous, high-speed internet, over vast areas.”

Deakin added, “The trial has proved that 5G can be reliably beamed down from an airborne antenna and is indistinguishable from ground-based mobile networks. Our hydrogen-powered ‘Stratomast’ High Altitude Platform currently under development, will be able to fly for a week without refuelling and cover an area of 15,000 km2 using one antenna.”

The successful demonstration that a High Altitude Platform can deliver 5G Internet from the stratosphere means that mobile users can look forward to the capability of 5G mobile internet, even in the remotest areas of the world.

CITC Governor, H.E. Dr Mohammed Altamimi commented “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is at the cutting edge of technological innovation and our partnership with Stratospheric Platforms’ with the support of the Red Sea Project and General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has demonstrated how we can deliver ‘always on’, ultra-fast broadband to areas without ground based 5G masts.”


Background and Analysis:

SPL was founded in Cambridge in 2014. In 2016, Deutsche Telekom became its biggest single shareholder and launch customer. It came out of hiding in 2020 with a demonstration in Germany of an aerial LTE base station.

Should SPL turn its HAPS vision into a sustainable, commercial reality, it will have succeeded where some much bigger names have failed. Google had a grand vision to offer long range WiFi connectivity from a fleet of balloons.  Project Loon  launched its first – and what turned out to be only – commercial service in Kenya in 2018.   After nine years, Google gave up on Project Loon in 2021.  In 2015 Google also dabbled with a drone-based HAPS service called Project Titan, but that came to an end in 2016.

Similarly Facebook attempted to roll out drone-based connectivity under the Aquila brand in 2016, but threw in the towel two years later.  Facebook then posted what they believe will be “the next chapter in high altitude connectivity.”

These inauspicious examples don’t seem to have deterred SPL from pursuing HAPS connectivity, and it isn’t the only one trying.  This past January, Japan’s NTT announced it is working with its mobile arm DoCoMo, aircraft maker Airbus, and Japanese satcoms provider Sky Perfect JSAT to look into the feasibility of HAPS-based connectivity.

So the momentum is building for HAPS based wireless connectivity but it won’t go mass market till standards emerge.


New partnership targets future global wireless-connectivity services combining satellites and HAPS

Facebook & AT&T to Test Drones for Wireless Communications Capabilities

After 9 years Alphabet pulls the plug on Loon; Another Google X “moonshot” bites the dust!

High altitude connectivity: The next chapter


ITU-R Future Report: high altitude platform stations as IMT base stations (HIBS)


A High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) is a wireless network node that operates in the stratosphere at an of altitude around 20 km and is instrumental for providing communication services. Precipitated by technological innovations in the areas of autonomous avionics, array antennas, solar panel efficiency levels, and battery energy densities, and fueled by flourishing industry ecosystems, the HAPS has emerged as an indispensable component of next-generations of wireless networks.

High-altitude platform station (HAPS) systems can potentially be used to provide both fixed broadband connectivity for end users and transmission links between the mobile and core networks for backhauling traffic. Both types of HAPS applications would enable wireless broadband deployment in remote areas, including in mountainous, coastal and desert areas.

In some situations, HAPS may be rapidly deployed for disaster recovery communications, particularly because the use of inter-HAPS links allows the provision of services with minimal ground network infrastructure.

ITU Radio Regulations (RR) define HAPS as radio stations located on an object at an altitude of 20-50 kilometres and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth.


An ITU-R “work in progress” report will describe spectrum needs, usage and deployment scenarios, and technical and operational characteristics for the use of high altitude platform stations as IMT base stations (HIBS) for mobile service in certain frequency bands below 2.7 GHz already identified for IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications).  In particular, the report will explain the technical and operational characteristics of HIBS in the bands 694‑960 MHz, 1710-1885 MHz, 1885-1980 MHz, 2010-2025 MHz, 2110-2170 MHz and 2500-2690 MHz to be used in sharing and compatibility studies under WRC-23 agenda item 1.4.

HAPSMobile’s Sunglider can cover 200 km at a distance of 20 km above the Earth in the stratosphere.

Image courtesy of HAPSMobile


IMT systems have evolved significantly in terms of spectrum identification, network deployment, and radio access technology, with the standardization of IMT-Advanced (4G) and IMT-2020 (5G).

At the same time, recent advances in battery and solar-panel technologies could enable HIBS to provide low latency mobile broadband connectivity to underserved communities, and in rural and remote areas, over a large geographic footprint.

These technological advances could enable HIBS, using the same frequency bands as ground-based IMT base stations, to be used as a part of, and complement terrestrial IMT networks. Existing user equipment (UE), which already supports a variety of frequency bands identified for IMT, could be served by both HIBS and ground-based IMT base stations. HIBS will therefore require new identifications to use certain frequency bands below 2.7 GHz already identified for IMT, considering potential HIBS deployment scenarios and its technical and operational characteristics, while taking into account sharing and compatibility with existing applications and services under WRC-23 Agenda 1.4.

Recognizing this, WRC-19 adopted Resolution 247 to consider “the use of HIBS in the mobile service in certain frequency bands below 2.7 GHz already identified for IMT, on a global or regional level.”

Basic concepts of HIBS applications:

HIBS (high altitude platform station as IMT base station) is defined in No. 1.66A as a “A station located on an object at an altitude of 20 to 50 km and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth.”

It’s important to recognize that HIBS can provide low latency mobile connectivity to unserved areas, including rural and remote areas, over a large footprint ( around 31,500 km2).

HIBS can enhance terrestrial IMT networks with so-called “super macro cells” that complement the existing ground-based deployment methods (e.g. macro cell, micro cell).

HIBS are intended to be used as a part of, and complement to, terrestrial IMT networks, using the same frequency bands as ground-based IMT base stations. In this sense, the UE to be served, whether by HIBS or ground-based IMT base stations, are the same. HIBS applications could provide flexibility and broaden the use of the existing IMT bands to complement coverage and support different use cases, while taking into account sharing and compatibility with existing applications and services.

Such use of spectrum by HIBS would require new identifications for HAPS as IMT base stations are required similar to those in RR no. 5.388A established at WRC-2000. Modifications to the IMT identification under RR No. 5.286AA, 5.317A, 5.341A, 5.341B, 5.341C, 5.346, 5.346A, 5.384A and 5.388 are outside the scope of WRC-23 Agenda Item 1.4.

The amount of spectrum needed in a given deployment scenario would depend on a number of factors and in the following section, examples of spectrum needs for HIBS applications is provided under specific system characteristics and deployment scenarios.

Usage and deployment scenarios:

The aim of HIBS is to provide internet access and services to the UE in remote area cases with quick deployment and less transmission loss.

Some HIBS applications communication usages foreseen are:

Natural disaster relief missions, where communication for coordination and situation awareness across help and humanitarian aid organizations is needed.

Fire detection, monitoring and firefighting missions to ensure communication between actors.

Exploration missions with communication needs between exploration teams and regional home base.

Possible deployment scenarios:

HIBS would be deployed to provide connectivity to areas unserved and/or underserved by ground-based IMT base stations, such as:

Areas where it is difficult to provide mobile connectivity using ground-based IMT base stations due to economic challenges (e.g. very small population covered, lack of backhaul connectivity and power supply, etc.).

Areas covered by ground-based IMT base stations, but disruption to power supply and/or backhaul have resulted in a temporary lack of mobile connectivity.

Unpopulated areas not covered by ground-based IMT base stations.

Mobile connectivity is becoming widespread, connecting objects (IoT: Internet of things, IoE: Internet of everything), as well as people.

Sensor networks which combine different types of sensors and IoT technology based on IMT systems (eMTC: enhanced Machine-Type Communication, NB-IoT: Narrowband IoT) are likely to be widely used in both populated and unpopulated areas. These areas are currently unserved and/or underserved.

Safety and security:

HIBS can help provide ubiquitous mobile coverage in unpopulated areas, thereby allowing users to get mobile connectivity regardless of time, place or circumstances. Thus, users will be able to make an emergency call wherever they are, in the case of a sudden car breakdown, getting lost or another problem.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, communication networks can be restored quickly by using HIBS to cover these areas.

As they can connect to ordinary mobile phones that people carry all the time, HIBS are well suited for safety and security applications.

Internet of Things:

ICT is now widely used to help maintain and manage public infrastructure, such as roads, pavements, bridges and dams. Using a combination of IMT-based IoT technology and HIBS connectivity, infrastructure in both urban areas and rural/unpopulated areas can be managed on the same sensor network. The same approach can also be used to monitor natural processes, which are difficult for people to get close to, such as an active volcano.

Connected sensor networks can also support large-scale agriculture and livestock farming. The data they collect can be used for automation and the streamlining of processes, and can lead to innovation in this sector.

In this way, HIBS will be able to expand the reach of IoT services to support efficient management and maintenance of both public infrastructure and natural objects, while contributing to the development of the farming industry.

Event services:

HIBS can also be deployed above a venue, such as a stadium, a theme park, a resort, a tourist spot or exhibition place to provide more capacity to accommodate a temporary increase in demand. The rapid deployment of HIBS can augment the terrestrial network infrastructure to satisfy unusually high capacity requirements over short periods of time.

Frequency Bands:

HIBS will need additional and separate identification to use certain frequency bands below 2.7 GHz already identified for IMT taking into account sharing and compatibility with existing applications and services. Modifications to the identifications to IMT (5.286AA, 5.317A, 5.341A, 5.341B, 5.341C, 5.346, 5.346A, 5.384A and 5.388) in the Radio Regulations are outside the scope of WRC-23 Agenda Item 1.4. It may be possible for HIBS to employ the same band plans (see ITU-R Recommendation M.1036) as used by ground based IMT networks.




Preview of WRC‑19: Enabling Global Radiocommunications via Radio Frequency Spectrum and Satellite Orbit Resources

By Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau

The ITU’s upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19) will play a key role in shaping the technical and regulatory framework  for the provision of radiocommunication services in all countries, in space, air, at sea and on land. It will help accelerate progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It will provide a solid foundation to support a variety of emerging technologies that are set to revolutionize the digital economy, including the use of artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud services.

“The World Radiocommunication Conference, which opened today (October 28th), will address some of the leading-edge technological innovations set to play a pivotal role in tomorrow’s digital economy and the future development of services, systems and technologies,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, noting that digital inclusion provides the chance to improve the lives of millions across the world. “A transformative revolution in connectivity is in the making with immense implications for the trillion-dollar telecommunication and ICT industry and in advancing many of the United Nations SDGs.”

Every three to four years the conference revises the Radio Regulations (RR), the only international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources. The treaty’s provisions regulate the use of telecommunication services and, where necessary, also regulate new applications of radiocommunication technologies.

The aim of the regulation is to facilitate equitable access and rational use of the limited natural resources of the radio-frequency spectrum and the satellite orbits, and to enable the efficient and effective operation of all radio communication services.

WRC‑19 will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 28 October to 22 November 2019 and its agenda covers a wide range of radio- communication services (see examples at the end of this article).

The preparations for the conference include studies and discussions that take place in the ITU–R Study Groups, the Conference Preparatory Meeting, the ITU inter-regional workshops, and also within the regional groups. The very nature of the process and study cycle helps build consensus and facilitates the work of the conference, where final decisions are made. See the infographic for more information on the preparatory process.

Each World Radiocommunication Conference affects the future development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in many ways, including:

    • Introducing and expanding access to the radio spectrum for new radiocommunication systems and applications;
    • Protecting the operation of existing radiocommunication services and providing the stable and predictable regulatory
      environment needed for future investments;
    • Avoiding the potential for harmful interference between radio services;
    • Allowing the provision of high-quality radiocommunications while protecting vital uses of the radio spectrum, particularly for distress and safety communications; and
    • Facilitating international roaming and increasing economies of scale, thereby making it possible for network and user
      devices to be more affordable.

Image result for image for WRC 19

2nd ITU Inter-regional Workshop on WRC-19 Preparation


Times of transformation:

Currently, billions of people, businesses, and devices are connected to the Internet. ICTs are transforming each and every aspect of our lives, from the way people interact and communicate to the way companies do business.

People expect instantaneous high-quality connectivity, whether stationary or on-the-move, in their homes or outside in a crowd.

Companies search for new ways to increase their business and operational efficiency, whether by monitoring the condition of equipment and conducting predictive maintenance, or by monitoring customer data to offer personalized solutions. The increasing need for a new underlying ecosystem will be made possible by utilizing a variety of complementary terrestrial and satellite technologies/services.

The fifth generation of mobile technology, International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) 2020 (5G) promises to enhance the connectivity infrastructure that delivers high-speed networks to end users, carries the flow of information from billions of users and IoT devices, and enables a whole array of services to different industry verticals. Spectrum for 5G services will be one of the main topics of WRC‑19. More specifically, new allocations will be considered for the mobile service and identification for IMT of frequencies in the mm Wave bands (above 24 GHz).

In addition, satellite services aim at increasing connectivity, whether by providing access to broadband communications to unserved rural communities, or to passengers on aircrafts, on ships and on land, or by expanding backhaul of terrestrial networks.

WRC‑19 will address fixed and mobile satellite services, earth stations in motion, and will revise the assignment procedures pertaining to satellite networks.

Leveraging the economic opportunities brought by technology should be possible not only for some, but for all. One target of SDG No. 9 is to increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least-developed countries by 2020.

Fortunately, new technological innovations support this goal. They aim at expanding broadband connectivity and telecommunication services to least-developed countries, underserved communities, rural and remote areas, including mountainous, coastal and desert areas.

Towards this end, WRC‑19 will consider spectrum for High-Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS) and will revise the regulatory framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Systems (non-GSO). HAPS, operating in the stratosphere, can be used to provide fixed broadband connectivity for end users, and backhaul for mobile networks, thus increasing the coverage of these networks.

Constellations of non-GSO satellites aim at improving quality, increasing the capacity and reducing the costs of satellite services, which should enable satellite operators to bring market solutions that increase access to connectivity.

Times of uncertainty

These are times of transformation, but also of uncertainty. The number of natural disasters have increased considerably in the last decades: hurricanes, earthquakes, storms, floods, and fires. Climate change is a reality: we are experiencing heatwaves, and observing long-lasting glaciers melt.

Taking this into account, SDG No. 13 on climate action targets to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. To reach this target, several radiocommunication services offer the solution required to monitor, mitigate and adapt to these events.

Satellite communications, and in particular space sensing and Earth observation systems are used to monitor the state of the oceans and the conservation of forests. They can detect natural disturbances in the state of the atmosphere and provide accurate climate predictions.

Radiocommunication services are a crucial accelerator towards the achievement of all the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.

Other radiocommunication systems are also used to collect and transmit data related to weather conditions (humidity, rainfall rates etc.), for example IoT systems and radars. These sources of information form the critical mass needed to detect climate-related hazards.

Broadcasting and broadband services provide early warning to the population which reduces the impact of natural and environmental disasters by strengthening the resilience and increasing adaptive capacity.

Amateur radiocommunication services, among others, assist relief operations especially when other services are still not operational. More recently, HAPS have also been deployed to rapidly deliver services with minimal ground network infrastructure in disaster-relief missions.

WRC‑19’s decisions will affect services of utmost importance in these times of transformation and uncertainty. They will allow us to harness the power of ICTs to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities of today’s digital economy.


Radiocommunication services are deeply transforming the health, education, and transportation sectors. They are improving financial inclusion, increasing transparency and supporting accountable institutions, promoting sustainable agriculture, helping to preserve life in the air, at sea and on land. They are a crucial accelerator towards the achievement of all the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.

The four year preparation cycle leading to the WRC, the high-level of commitment of participants from governments and industry, done through arduous work and extensive international negotiations, both in the preparatory pro‑ cess and during the WRC‑19, will culminate in the signing of the WRC‑19 Final Acts and revising the Radio Regulations — the invaluable international treaty that is the foundation for rational, efficient and economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum, enabling radiocommunication technology developments since the start of radiocommunications, 113 years ago.



WRCs review the way radio spectrum is organized around the world, bringing together governments to negotiate and agree on the relevant modifications to the RR and commit to them. The preparatory process of WRCs involves extensive studies and preparatory discussions among all stakeholders (equipment makers, network operators, industry forums and users of spectrum) at national, regional and worldwide levels. Many of these stakeholders also serve as members of national delegations at the conference itself. This multi-stakeholder approach enables the necessary consensus to be built to ensure that WRCs maintain a stable, predictable and universally applied regulatory environment which secures long-term investments for a multi-trillion dollar industry.

The four-week program of a WRC includes the review and update of the global technical, operational and regulatory provisions that govern the use of the radio-frequency spectrum for terrestrial and satellite applications. In conducting its activities, the conference attempts to cast a proper balance:



High Altitude Platform System (HAPS): U.S. Proposal for frequency range 24.25-25.25 GHz

The following is a U.S. contribution to the World Radio-communication Conference (WRC-19) Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 28 Oct – 22 Nov 2019:

ITU Radio Regulations defines a high-altitude platform station (HAPS) as “a station on an object at an altitude of 20 to 50 km and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth.”

Agenda item 1.14 was adopted by WRC-15 to consider, in accordance with Resolution 160 (WRC-15), regulatory actions that can facilitate deployment of HAPS for broadband applications. Resolution 160 resolves to invite the ITU-R to study additional spectrum needs of HAPS, examining the suitability of existing HAPS designations, and conducting sharing and compatibility studies for additional designations in existing fixed service allocations in the 38‑39.5 GHz band, on a global basis, and in bands already allocated to the fixed service in the 21.4‑22 GHz and 24.25-27.5 GHz bands in Region 2 exclusively.

Advances in aeronautics and transmission technologies have significantly improved the capabilities of HAPS to provide effective connectivity solutions and meet the growing demand for high capacity broadband networks, particularly in currently underserved areas. Recently conducted full-scale test flights have shown that solar-powered platforms in the upper-atmosphere can now be used to carry payloads that offer reliable and cost-effective connectivity, and a growing number of applications for the new generation of HAPS are being developed. The technology appears particularly well suited to complementing terrestrial networks by providing backhaul. A number of advantages of the new generation of HAPS are foreseen:

  • Reach: HAPS platforms may operate at around 20 km above ground, which reduces their vulnerability to weather conditions that may affect service, provides large coverage areas and helps mitigate interference caused by physical obstacles.
  • Geographical reach: HAPS that use the architecture of solar platforms can also provide connectivity where it is impossible to deploy terrestrial infrastructure: remote sites on land or sea.
  • Wide-area coverage: Depending on the operational scenario, a single platform is capable of providing footprints on the order of up to 100 km in diameter, and recent technological advances in the development of optical inter-HAPS links now support the deployment of multiple linked HAPS, in fleets that can provide greater coverage within a country as needed.
  • Low cost and environmental aspects: The cost of operating stratospheric platforms is projected to be lower than other connectivity solutions depending on geographical area, while mass production of the aircraft will significantly lower upfront capital expenditure for deployment. HAPS can run exclusively on solar power for long periods, connecting people with almost no environmental impact.
  • Rapid deployment and flexibility: It may be possible to deploy HAPS services without long lead times and it is relatively simple to return solar platforms to the ground for maintenance or payload reconfiguration.

The ITU-R conducted sharing and compatibility studies to assess coexistence between HAPS and incumbent and proposed systems and services (including issues of overlap with WRC-19 agenda items 1.6 and 1.13). Associated regulatory provisions are proposed below based on the results of sharing studies.


For the frequency range 24.25-25.25 GHz in Region 2, the USA proposes “no change” (NOC) to the Radio Regulations, as Resolution 160 (WRC-15) calls for identifications for HAPS in frequency bands already allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis. In Region 2, the bands in this frequency range are not already allocated to the fixed service. No studies have been conducted in the ITU-R to assess the sharing and compatibility of adding a new fixed service allocation to the 24.25-25.25 GHz band in Region 2. As a frequency band cannot be designated for fixed service HAPS use without a fixed service allocation, no change is proposed under agenda item 1.14. This proposal is aligned with Method 4A of the CPM Report to WRC-19.


Table of Frequency Allocations

Allocation to services
Region 1 Region 2 Region 3



















5.533 5.533


(Earth-to-space)  5.532B




SATELLITE (Earth-to-space)



(Earth-to-space)  5.532B




Reasons:    Resolution 160 (WRC-15) calls for identifications for HAPS in frequency bands already allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis. In Region 2, for the frequency range 24.25-25.25 GHz, the bands in this frequency range are not allocated to the fixed service.


Allocation to services
Region 1 Region 2 Region 3


(Earth-to-space)  5.532B


(Earth-to-space)  5.535



(Earth-to-space)  5.535


Reasons:    Resolution 160 (WRC-15) calls for identifications for HAPS in frequency bands already allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis. In Region 2, for the frequency range 24.25-25.25 GHz, the bands in this frequency range are not allocated to the fixed service.