Higher or lower, SoftBank brings together ‘non-terrestrial’ connections
Japanese operator and investor SoftBank has taken a significant move to unify and coordinate all of its connectivity solutions that operate from above the Earth’s surface.
The company, which is an investor in UK/Indian low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite company OneWeb, is bringing together satellite, balloon and aircraft-mounted platforms into a single strategy.
Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO, commented: “OneWeb is pleased to be working in partnership with SoftBank to realize our shared vision of connecting the globe. Together, we will develop new technologies and products, as well as secure the licenses and build the ground stations that will enable us to provide telecommunications services in Japan and other key global markets.”
SoftBank, founded by Masayoshi Son, is bringing together these technologies as non-terrestrial network (NTN) solutions, ranging from geostationary satellites at 36,000km above the Earth’s surface to balloons and aircraft at 20km.
Son left his formal role in the leadership of the group in April, handing over former CTO Junichi Miyakawa. The previous president and CEO, Ken Miyauchi, moved up to the chairman’s role.
The group has interests in all sectors: geostationary satellite company Skylo and flying platform HAPSMobile as well as OneWeb. Skylo’s satellite NB-IoT services are providing internet of things (IoT) connectivity for fishing, mining, shipping and other industries.
Skylo CEO and co-founder Parth Trivedi said: “At the end of the day, customers just want seamless connectivity — we’re finally able to do that at price points and at a form factor that has eliminated the historical disparity in addressable market size between users of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks.”
Last year the group’s HAPSMobile unit, then led by Miyakawa, successfully transmitted 4G mobile signals — including a video call — from an uncrewed solar-powered aircraft 19km above New Mexico.
That flight was the latest stage in HAPSMobile’s project to develop high-altitude platforms that could act as flying celltowers to cover remote regions.
The company said today that its stratospheric platform will be able to provide 4G and 5G connectivity, “making it possible for customers to use their smartphones and other mobile devices without the need for special equipment, even if their region lacks traditional communications infrastructure”.
Overseeing the whole project is Hidebumi Kitahara, head of SoftBank’s technology unit’s global business strategy division, who said: “There are still many analogue industries around the world that lack sufficient access to communication networks. Providing internet access is the first step to digitally transform these industries, and we believe our NTN solutions will be extremely effective technologies to achieve this goal. With our NTN solutions powered by Skylo, OneWeb and HAPSMobile, we’ll work to offer telecommunication networks globally.”