Balloons for wireless ‘to achieve $4bn market in 10 years’, says NSR

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The market for balloons, airships and other alternatives to mobile phone towers will be worth $4 billion in revenues over the next decade, according to a new report.

Northern Sky Research (NSR) said the market will remain in recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic before accelerated growth towards the end of the twenties, with the number of in-service units growing at 8.7% a year over the decade.

That annual 8.7% growth rate is equivalent to an increase of 130% in 10 years.

NSR analyst Shivaprakash Muruganandham said the high-altitude platform (HAP) market will be mainly driven by high-altitude balloons, followed far behind by pseudo-satellites and airships.

“Commercial interest in providing internet connectivity to remote and underserved regions, especially those with high density populations, and military interest for ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and remote sensing applications, are generating demand for high altitude platforms of different kinds.”

Telcos are also taking greater interest in HAPs as a viable option for remote and rural connectivity around the globe, he said. Balloons are driven by scientific missions in the near term, and commercial communications in the long-term, while both remote sensing/ISR and commercial communications drive the pseudo-satellites market.

“The market is now more open to joint alliances and partnerships to foster advancements in the industry,” said Muruganandham. “With a few players continuing to make the case for commercial solutions, the market viability for communications and remote sensing is experiencing a transition right now that could lead to sustained growth going forward.”

There are more than 40 HAPs programmes at various stages of development globally, says the NSR report.

In recent weeks Capacity has reported on developments by Loon, part of the Alphabet group that owns Google, to use balloons (pictured) in east Africa for mobile phone coverage.

In April, Loon started working with Telkom Kenya to deliver the balloon-delivered service. And in May Vodacom said it was to use Loon balloon-carried base stations to extend coverage in Mozambique. Vodacom’s balloons will float 20km above the ground in the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa, in the north of the country close to the border with Tanzania.