Another step towards worldwide cheaper internet

The internet will be cheaper in the come few years – and we might have drone technology to thank for it.

We have learned recently about tethered drones bringing internet connectivity to localised communities like refugee camps and other small areas in need of communication with the outside world.

But Tokyo’s HAPSMobile – a provider of drone-based stratospheric telecommunications services – and Alphabet’s Loon have their eyes set on bigger and more large-scale projects than just a tethered drone serving a small community, useful as it is. Last week, the two companies successfully launched HAPSMobile’s Sunglider – a fixed wing autonomous High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) installed with Loon’s communication payload into the stratosphere, where it could fly for months on end, running on solar power.

The pilot test – the first involving Loon’s LTE internet communication system – was carried out in New Mexico, USA, on September 21 this year. Previously, HAPSMobile had carried out other tests on its Sunglider, like in late July, where the company claimed their aerial vehicle reached altitudes higher than those of previous flights and maintained high altitudes for a long duration. Then, the Sunglider also successfully passed all test points, including flight speed changes, steep turns, automated flight control in the event of interrupted communications with the Ground Control System, and in-flight balance control, according to HAPSMobile.

A subsidiary of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Loon is working on providing internet access to rural and remote areas all over the world. The company usually uses high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere at an altitude of 18 km to 25 km to create an aerial wireless network with up to 1 Mbps speeds.

Now they have set their focus on trying drone technology with HAPSMobile.

“This successful test represents yet another step to develop a new layer of connectivity based in the stratosphere,” said Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth. “It is also an important step in our ongoing strategic partnership with HAPSMobile. By developing technologies to harness the opportunity of the stratosphere, we are making progress toward our shared goal of connecting unconnected and under-connected populations around the world.”

During the test, the communications payload enabled a video phone call between Loon members and their counterparts from AeroVironment (a minority shareholder in HAPSMobile) and HAPSMobile team members in Tokyo.

 “I am thrilled that our wireless communications equipment jointly developed with Loon exceeded our expectations in severe high-altitude conditions,” said Junichi Miyakawa, president and CEO of HAPSMobile. “Through this test we’ve obtained vital data that will accelerate the development of commercial services and improve the coverage and quality of our HAPS connectivity. We look forward to further developing the payload with Loon so we can revolutionise mobile connectivity and bridge the world’s digital divide.”

In August, the Rwandan government announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with HAPSMobile that would unite both parties in exploring the possibilities of HAPS technology as a source of high-speed internet connectivity in the country.


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