In the near future, mobile phones may get their 5g signals from the sky, rather than from antenna poles near the ground. This is an innovative way to solve the problem of increasing connectivity without adding thousands of ground cellular towers. The concept is called high altitude platform station (HAPS), which actually takes the cellular tower off the ground and puts it in the sky.
The latest haps projects are from stratospheric platform and Cambridge consultants. Today, the two revealed the core of their efforts, a special antenna and drone, which they have been working on secretly for the past four years.
Instead of talking to a nearby tower to get a signal, your phone talks to a three square meter antenna connected to a hydrogen powered aircraft (with a wing height of 60 meters), which flies at an altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers). The aircraft or HAP is expected to fly at high altitude for at least a week, while providing 4glte and 5g network coverage in an area of about 86 miles (140 km).
Phones don’t send very strong signals, so the antenna array on the plane is very large, with 4000 radios inside. Similarly, the processing power is also very powerful. Even when the aircraft is flying around, it helps to turn and guide the light beam to the ground. The cooling system must also work at high altitude to minimize the resistance and keep the weight controllable. It’s an exciting technology in itself.
The aircraft itself is made of composite materials and has passed the use certification, so it is considered safe and can fly in civil airspace. Without pilots, ground operators will only be involved during takeoff and landing. Hydrogen power battery is not only environmentally friendly, because it not only produces water vapor, but also makes little noise, and releases a lot of power, and has been tested in the laboratory for up to 50KW. This is far more than the low-power solar power systems used in other HAP vehicles.
The implementation cost of HAPS system is also low. It is reported that the cost of building each aircraft is 70% less than that of building and installing traditional masts. Then there are the benefits of saving space and logistics. According to the research cited by the team, for example, it is estimated that to cover the unrealistic 400000 5g masts in the UK, each aircraft can replace about 200 of them.
What do you expect from connectivity? The aircraft should return smooth sub-65g beam signal to the connected equipment, providing 100mbit / s speed and 1m / s delay without any special software or hardware modification. Although haps aircraft fleet can provide enough coverage for the whole country, it is very interesting that the special modular design of the antenna can achieve the target coverage.
This means that signals from a part of the antenna may be concentrated on a single area (such as a highway), or even on a single vehicle driving on it. The team said a fleet of 60 aircraft could cover the whole of the UK, with the idea of making the network work with dedicated “Airlines” that operate the aircraft.
What will hinder the project? It forces networks to rethink how they currently work. Network operators are already using traditional antenna poles to install 5g networks. It will take a lot of work to persuade them to get around the problem and adopt skyline services. However, the team described its stratospheric network as a complement to the traditional network, and said the cost involved would be attractively lower than that of building an extensive network. 5g network only uses ground mast.
How many devices, how many calls and how many data a plane can handle at the same time is also puzzling. Stratospheric platform says that this is a network planning problem, not a problem it has to deal with. If the capacity is not high enough, the network may think twice. The cost of operating a network fleet can also make early adoption very expensive.
The concept of stratospheric platform is not the first example of HAPS we have seen. The haps mobile project, supported by Softbank, successfully launched its sunglider platform into the stratosphere in September for successful testing, while Google’s Loon hopes to put the transceiver on a large solar balloon. Facebook’s Aquila also made headlines in 2016 after its first test flight, but the project was cancelled in 2018. The haps alliance emphasizes the work of so many companies on this technology. Members include Nokia, Ericsson, Airbus and Spain Telecom.
When can we expect to see haps system of stratospheric platform put into operation? Deutsche Telekom was the initial investor and start-up partner of the project and has tested earlier versions to prove the effectiveness of the system. Stratospheric platforms aircraft are now in production, and the first prototype flight is planned in 2022. The antenna exists as a proof of concept and can be used with 3G, 4G and 5g. The service is expected to be launched in 2024.
Editor in charge ajx