SoftBank’s floating platform in successful trial of remote broadband services


A SoftBank company has successfully tested the first flying platform that could be used to deliver broadband communications to remote areas.

In a trial in California, HAPSMobile tested its solar-powered Hawk30 platform, which is designed to serve as a stratospheric telecommunications platform system for delivering next-generation global connectivity.

“While this successful test flight represents just the first step, we’re moving forward with tests in the stratosphere and long flight duration tests lasting several months up to half a year,” said Junichi Miyakawa, CTO of SoftBank and also president and CEO of HAPSMobile, said after the tests.

The next steps, once the California tests are completed, will be to move to the Hawaiian island of Lanai, where further trials will be carried out before the end of March.

HAPSMobile, a SoftBank subsidiary in which AeroVironment has a minority stake, has already said that it is working with Facebook on delivering broadband internet to remote areas.

In August it carried out a flight demonstration in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, as part of a collaboration between the two companies to accelerate the development and adoption of high-altitude platform system (HAPS) communication technologies.

Miyakawa said: “HAPSMobile will continue to work toward its goal of bridging the world’s digital divide and revolutionising mobile networks by leveraging HAPS.”

He noted: “Hawk30 is a solar-powered unmanned aircraft designed to provide a high-altitude communications platform, and will be used to provide telecommunications connectivity from the stratosphere as an airborne base station.”

In South Africa, the test used the same 26GHz and 38GHz HAPS spectrum bands that will be considered for high-altitude services at the WRC-19 (World Radio Conference), which starts in Egypt next month.

SoftBank concept is for platforms to operate 20km above the surface – well above the level of commercial aircraft, but in a zone where weather is mild throughout the year, with little change in the wind speed. At only 20km above the surface, latency is trivial.

The company says it plans to use the same frequencies as those used from conventional cell towers, so current smartphones can be used without any upgrade. No special devices would be required in rural areas.

In April HAPSMobile said it was working with Google owner Alphabet to put $250 million into a company that plans to deliver internet access from balloons and uncrewed aircraft, to deliver wholesale telecoms services to people on the ground. HAPSMobile will invest $125 million in Loon. Loon will invest the same amount in HAPSMobile in the future, said a joint statement.