Deutsche Telekom is working with pilotless aircraft company Stratospheric Platforms Ltd to develop airborne base stations with a 100km range
German operator Deutsche Telekom (DT) has announced this morning the successful testing of a stratospheric base station, which it hopes will one day deliver connectivity to remote areas across the country
One of the major challenges that has faced operators since the beginning of mobile communications is how to deliver coverage to hard-to-reach areas. Given the physical limitations of various radio-frequencies and the typically high costs associated with deploying infrastructure, finding a cost effective way to serve remote areas has been a major focus for many service provider.
Now, DT hoping that its successful tests alongside British start-up Stratospheric Platforms Ltd will prove the viability of aerial base stations and offer them the perfect solution to the issue of remote connectivity.
“We have shown that we can deliver fast internet and connectivity anywhere,” said Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, chief executive of Deutsche Telekom’s mobile towers business Deutsche Funkturm. “Especially in areas that are hard to reach for traditional mobile towers, aerial base stations will be a smart and cost-effective addition to our mobile networks.”
The aerial base stations take the form of a pilotless aircraft, flying at around 14,000 metres, which can deliver 4G connectivity to a 100 km area via its antenna, supporting voice and video calls, as well as downloads and web browsing. DT conducted the tests using an adapted propeller plane, but Stratospheric Platforms is ultimately working towards its own vehicle design – a lightweight design powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, allowing it to stay airborne for one to two weeks.
Even better, this fuel cell’s only emission would be water, making the platform’s flight emissions free.
Recently, more and more operators have been exploring the possibility of airborne solutions – platforms that would be able to project connectivity over a wide area, disregarding any geographical challenges the landscape may present. These solutions offer many of the benefits of satellites in terms of range, but without the exorbitant launch costs.
Indeed, DT is not the only would-be telco to be exploring aerial connectivity solutions this year. The most famous is perhaps Google’s Loon, a secretive balloon-based connectivity platform project that is recently sought Special Temporary Authority from the Federal Communications Commission to perform tests towards the end of this year and the start of 2021.
In addition, the start of the year saw the formation of the High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) Alliance, a collaboration between an array of companies including Nokia, Ericsson, Telefonica, SoftBank, and Airbus to explore this innovative connectivity solution.
For now, however, these aerial connectivity solutions remain in their infancy. DT and Stratospheric Platforms have said that they were currently working towards operational readiness by 2024.
Are aerial connectivity solutions a niche novelty or will they become a major part of every operator’s repertoir? Find out what the experts think at this year’s Total Telecom Congress