Deutsche Telekom-funded start-up Stratospheric Platforms (SPL) detailed plans to challenge the increasingly busy airspace of providing connectivity from unmanned aircraft, with a target of launching commercial services in 2024.
In a joint press event with Cambridge Consultants, which is working on the antenna technology to deliver 5G from the aircraft, the companies outlined their progress, with test flights of an LTE version with Deutsche Telekom conducted over Bavaria.
The companies expect test flights of the 5G-based system in 2022 as they move to commercial launches covering Germany in 2024.
Its system is claimed to provide significant savings on constructing and providing 5G from traditional masts. Although the companies declined to provide a cost breakdown, SPL pointed to significant savings around operator’s current infrastructure site rental costs.
SPL is aiming the system at as wide a market as possible, illustrating uses for urban and rural areas in developed and developing markets.
As with other high-altitude platforms, it will operate in the stratosphere. Each craft is said to be able to provide coverage across a diameter of 140kms, with a fleet of 60 craft able to cover the whole of the UK and 67 needed for the entirety of Germany.
Each aircraft is expected to be able to replace at least 200 masts and stay in service for nine days before returning to its ground station. On-board antennas can produce 480 beams, which can be steered to provision specific uses such as transport routes.
SPL CEO Richard Deakin noted in its work with DT on potential rollout in southern Germany “the economics are very significantly better than anything you can achieve with terrestrial masts”, adding it was a “unique platform”.
The company is far from the only one looking to the skies in an attempt to persuade operators to adopt alternative infrastructure. Alongside numerous satellite operators, SPL also faces stiff competition from allied providers Google’s Loon and Softbank-backed HAPSMobile.
SPL claims its system uses a superior power source in liquid hydrogen rather than relying on solar power, which it considers more limiting.
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