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18 Mar 2022

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First 5G transmission from the stratosphere creates new opportunities

In countries that are trying to digitize their economies, making high-speed connectivity available in remote areas is often a major challenge. It may be time to consider a new approach to 5G telecoms, following the announcement from UK startup Stratospheric Platforms that it has demonstrated the first successful 5G broadband connection between an antenna at 45,000 feet and a retail 5G smartphone.

The trial was conducted in collaboration with the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) in the airspace above The Red Sea Project. Engineers tested a 5G base station, a flying stratospheric antenna, and retail mobile devices connected to a local telecommunications network.

An airborne antenna was able to reliably beam down 5G and was indistinguishable from ground-based wireless networks during the trial. This Stratomast High Altitude Platform currently under development is hydrogen-powered. The company claims that it will be able to fly for a week without refueling and cover an area of 15,000 km2 using one antenna.

In countries with large and often very remote areas, 5G connectivity is increasingly becoming an option. Government agencies can now partner with new providers like Elon Musk's Starlink in addition to traditional satellite communication companies like SES. Now stratospheric 5G might also be an option. Stratospheric Platforms was founded in 2014. Deutsche Telekom invested in 2016. This investment was crucial to bringing the project to life and - as the company states on its website - to establish communication links via the stratosphere to complement and extend existing mobile and fixed terrestrial networks via what Stratospheric Platforms calls 'towers in the sky'.

Photo credit: Matteo Fusco

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