SoftBank floats Australian high-altitude project

SoftBank floats Australian high-altitude project

Andrew Gauci, Lendlease copy.jpg

SoftBank is setting up a high-altitude platform company to improve rural mobile coverage, in Australia with Lendlease, a multinational construction, property and infrastructure company.

The joint venture, called HAPSMobile Australia, aims to provide wholesale 4G and 5G coverage to poorly connected areas.

But the company has not yet said what technology it prefers. In the past SoftBank’s HAPS (high altitude platform station) subsidiary has tried both balloons and uncrewed aircraft to carry mobile antennas, at heights up to 19km.

Andrew Gauci (pictured), Lendlease’s managing director of Japan and its head of telecoms and data infrastructure for Asia, said: “HAPS technology has the potential to truly connect Australia, not only people but also enabling machine-to-machine connectivity anywhere.”

Junichi Miyakawa, who is president and CEO of both SoftBank and its HAPSMobile business, gave no more clues.

“With its large landmass, much of Australia is still without mobile network coverage,” he said. “That’s why we believe HAPS-based solutions could be optimal for industrial IoT, emergency communications and other applications in addition to providing broadband for rural communities.”

There is no explicit commitment in the announcement. The companies said: “This joint venture partnership will explore the feasibility of HAPS deployment in Australia with Lendlease acting as facilitator.”

But there are no dates for any possible service. Miyakawa said, in another cautious comment: “We look forward to studying the business potential of HAPS in the Australian market with Lendlease.”

Two years ago SoftBank’s HAPSMobile successfully transmitted 4G mobile signals – including a video call – from an uncrewed solar-powered aircraft 19km above New Mexico.

In 2019 SoftBank and Google’s parent, Alphabet, invested US$250 million in a project to use aircraft and balloons to deliver wholesale telecoms services to people on the ground.

Alphabet had a company called Loon, which delivered trial 4G services into Kenya, but then it project was scrapped in early 2021. SoftBank then bought 200 patents from Loon.

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