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World’s First as UK Firm Links 5G Broadband via the Stratosphere

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022 (7:00 am) - Score 3,768
Stratospheric Platforms Picture Above the Earth

Cambridge-based company Stratospheric Platforms has announced the “world’s first” 5G (mobile broadband) transmission from Earth’s stratosphere, which at 45,000ft managed to maintain the signal for 5 hours and achieve a broadband download speed of 90Mbps to a retail Smartphone on the ground.

The idea of using autonomous drones or balloons – also known as High Altitude Platforms (HAP) – to relay mobile broadband signals into remote regions from the stratosphere is nothing new (e.g. Project Loon), although turning such ideas into a commercially viable business model has tended to be much more challenging.

In this case, Stratospheric Platforms ran their trial in collaboration with the Saudi-based Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) in the airspace above The Red Sea Project, which is a regeneration project focused on tourism.

The trial itself projected a 5G signal over an area of 450km2 and managed to achieve download speeds of 90Mbps via a retail 5G Smartphone on the ground. 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 1ms (millisecond) above network speed. Signal strength trials, using a 5G enabled device moving at 100km/h, proved full interoperability with ground-based masts and a consistent “five bars” in known white spots.

Richard Deakin, CEO of 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.

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 trial claims to have proven that this “technology can achieve mobile download speeds comparable to terrestrial 5G networks and at significantly lower cost“. Certainly 90Mbps is reasonable, but some terrestrial 5G networks can reach gigabit and even multi-gigabit speeds, particularly in the higher frequency mmWave bands. In short, it’s quite hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison with ground-based mobile deployments, as there are a lot of factors to consider.

Sadly, the announcement doesn’t tell us much about the platform itself or what radio bands were being used, although the website for Stratospheric Platforms seems to suggest that they’re using an autonomous drone with a wingspan of 60 metres – powered by a liquid hydrogen fuel cell – rather than a balloon.

All told, this is an interesting development, albeit one that probably has more relevance to other parts of the world than the UK itself.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Tham Evans says:

    It is indeed not such an easy task to make an apples to apples statements with regard outright speed and ubiquity, or for that matter future functional requirement for the internet of things.
    But I find it interesting as someone who works with HAPs that just doing any activities in and around Essex and Cambridge* the number of times my wife, my friends or I get to say ‘if only someone made dome flying Mobile Phone antenna thingy ‘ – while unable to get any form of connectivity, yet alone 5g at 1 Mbit.

  2. Buggerlugz says:

    Be interested to know the latency on that thing…… 🙂

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      “with an average latency of 1ms (millisecond)”

    2. Jim lyng says:

      Average latency 1 millisecond above average network speed…. obviously it will be much slower when congested, when there’s thunder and lightening this just sounds like half an Elon musk job they’re not making it to space.

  3. Mark says:

    Won’t this be bad news for the anti mobile/5G gang? Now they’ll have to live underground, since there’s no escape from the radiation!

    1. Chris says:

      Tin foil sombrero’s will sort that out.

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