BT and Stratospheric Platforms will test beaming 5G from aircraft

BT and Stratospheric Platforms will test beaming 5G from aircraft
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BT is partnering with Stratospheric Platforms (SPL) to test beaming 5G from a High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) aircraft.

The duo hopes the project will provide a solution to a key challenge of mobile connectivity: providing coverage to the most rural and difficult-to-reach areas.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with SPL to start realising the huge potential of HAPS aircraft to further strengthen our UK 4G and 5G network technology leadership,” said Tim Whitley, Managing Director of Research and Network Strategy at BT.

“This highly innovative and transformative project has the potential to further enhance our UK 4G and 5G footprint, which is already the largest and most reliable in the UK, to connect unserved rural areas and enable exciting new use cases for private users.”

New antenna technology will be mounted on the HAPS aircraft to deliver 5G and 4G connectivity from the stratosphere.

SPL’s phased array antenna uses 500 individually-steerable beams to deliver speeds of up to 150Mbps across areas as wide as 140km or 15,000km2. Both the antenna and flight platform are powered by hydrogen to lower costs and improve sustainability.

“The SPL team is excited to be working with BT Group to further advance its breakthrough UK-developed technology,” comments Richard Deakin, CEO of SPL.

“This partnership will build further on SPL’s world-first 5G demonstration from the stratosphere achieved in 2022.”

In SPL’s demo last year, the company delivered a 5G signal for five hours from 45,000ft and achieved a download speed of 90Mbps.

“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,” explained Deakin at the time.

“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.”

Connectivity from a HAPS aircraft could be used for a variety of purposes, including search-and-rescue, supporting humanitarian aid, enhancing maritime security, and delivering more reliable connections to consumers in remote areas.

Innovate UK is helping to fund the BT and SPL project. The trials are being conducted at BT’s global R&D headquarters at Adastral Park, Suffolk.

(Image Credit: BT)

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