High Altitude Platform Services – or stratospheric balloons – are a key part of Google’s broadband-to-the-planet policy.
Earlier this year a group of telecoms, aviation and technology companies, including Japan’s SoftBank and Alphabet Loon (the Google spin-off business looking after its balloon strategy) formed the HAPS Alliance.
The concept is simple: Float a series of balloons extremely high into the stratosphere and equip them with wireless connectivity to serve the hundreds of square kilometres below and in particular to rural and remote parts of the planet. Alphabet’s systems have already been used in zones of the planet which have suffered hurricanes, earthquakes and similar natural disasters and which have wiped out conventional communications.
Nokia has now also joined the Alliance.
The balloons operate at between 20 and 50 kms above the Earth’s surface and controlled from the ground by AI to – in the words of Nokia – “learn” how to tap into the natural winds in the stratosphere which at different levels can blow in different directions and thus keep a balloon in more or less the same spot and covering around 130 square kilometers of the ground below.
Nokia, in a briefing note, said: “This unlocks a whole new world of connected possibilities. For example, HAPS shows promise in extending wireless coverage to areas too challenging for traditional infrastructure – such as mountainous terrain, remote islands, marine regions and, in some developing countries. Within the HAPS Alliance, the collective aim is to create an ecosystem that supports universal next-generation global connectivity, not only for basic internet access, but also for IoT and future 5G use-cases.”
“Such is its immediate potential that the Kenyan government recently approved a project by Alphabet’s Loon and Telkom Kenya to introduce HAPS and help respond to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic. Delivering 4G service, it will support government efforts to assess and manage infections by providing remote clinics with high-speed internet access to referral hospitals,” added Nokia.