The Japanese conglomerate is seeking to provide broadband communications from High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) flying in the stratosphere, as well as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites

In the past year, the concept of satellite communications is growing in popularity. From the near continuous launching of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites in recent months to the revival of UK’s bankrupt OneWeb, it is clear that beaming down connectivity from above is becoming not only much more feasible, but much more competitive.

Now, SoftBank is making it clear that it is making a major play for satellite and stratospheric connectivity, announcing a new focus on what it is terming Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) solutions. The operator is citing a trio of potential NTN solutions, making use of 

The lowest situated of the three connectivity solutions will come from SoftBank’s subsidiary HAPSMobile. First created in 2017, the HAPS project aims to use unmanned air vehicles to service as flying base stations, capable of delivering LTE and 5G services directly to customers. Test flights in the stratosphere, at a height of about 20km, took place last year, with further trials ongoing.

The second highest solution comes in the form of UK satellite company OneWeb, whose LEO satellite-based services will be used by governments, businesses, and consumers to provide global connectivity. These LEO satellites will be situated at around 1,200 km, similar to those of Starlink and Amazon’s upcoming Kuiper project. 

OneWeb was rescued from bankruptcy last year by a $1 billion investment from the UK government and Indian telco Bharti Airtel. Since then, the satellite operator has announced plans to launch hundreds of satellites to ultimately provide global coverage. New investment has arrived from many sources, including SoftBank, who invested $350 million at the start of 2021.

Finally, a new deal announced yesterday with Skylo Technologies will see SoftBank make use of their GEO satellite solutions for narrowband IoT services, providing connectivity for fishing, mining, shipping and other industries. This solution will be situated at around 3,600km above the ground, reportedly offering faster and lower latency services compared to traditional GEO satellite services.

“There are still many analog industries around the world that lack sufficient access to communication networks. Providing Internet access is the first step to digitally transform these industries, and we believe our NTN solutions will be extremely effective technologies to achieve this goal,” explained Hidebumi Kitahara, SoftBank Vice President and Head of the Technology Unit’s Global Business Strategy Division. “With our NTN solutions powered by Skylo, OneWeb and HAPSMobile, we’ll work to offer telecommunication networks globally.”

This announcement demonstrates the many advances in non-terrestrial connectivity in recent years, which have seen satellites redeemed as a viable and, for the first time, a cost-effective connectivity medium. While much of this technology is undoubtedly still in its infancy, it is becoming increasingly plausible to support hard-to-reach customers with quality connectivity through these unconventional means.

“At the end of the day, customers just want seamless connectivity — we’re finally able to do that at price points and at a form factor that has eliminated the historical disparity in addressable market size between users of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks,” said Skylo CEO and Co-founder Parth Trivedi.


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