UK company Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL), a partner of German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom (DT) has successfully trialed pioneering technology that provides 5G network coverage from the stratosphere. Conducted on February 5th at The Red Sea Project site on Saudi Arabia’s western coast, the test was the world’s first demonstration of the High-Altitude Platform System (HAPS) using aircraft to extend a 5G service, covering a geographical area of 450 km2.
The trial was facilitated by Saudi Arabia’s digital regulator, CITC. Speaking after the successful conclusion of the test, Dr. Mohammed Al Tamimi, Governor of CITC, highlighted the significance of the event: “This is a great accomplishment for Saudi Arabia’s ICT sector. The deployment of HAPS in the Kingdom has been made possible by an enabling ICT ecosystem and strong government support. This successful demonstration puts us at the technological frontier globally and takes us closer to our Vision 2030 goal of extending high-quality ICT access to every part of the country.”
HAPS are radio stations located on an object flying or floating in the stratospheric layer. Stratospheric Platforms Limited used a German-made, long-endurance Grob aircraft for the Saudi trial. While HAPS remains an emerging technology, it can potentially bring connectivity to areas that are not covered, or are only partially covered, by cellular networks.
Positioned at high altitude and providing a clear and evenly distributed signal, HAPS enables additional capabilities, including the Internet of Things (IOT), emergency communications, disaster recovery, temporary coverage for events and tourist hotspots, and terrestrial site backhaul.
“The success of the trial in Saudi Arabia’s western coast had many challenges” noted Richard Deakin, CEO of Stratospheric Platforms. “Now that the 5G HAPS technology has been proven, the question is one of further commercial development. This is why having a diverse consortium such as ours, which includes strong government support, is essential to the continued realization of the program.”
Technology advancements in Saudi Arabia are being driven by the country’s Vision 2030, a whole-of-society program designed around economic diversification. Recent ICT initiatives include allocating more than 23 GHz of frequency spectrum for commercial and innovative uses, the launch of regulatory sandbox projects, open access for network operators, and the full-spectrum adoption of the WiFi-6e, becoming the first country in the EMEA region to do so.