Giant, high-altitude, solar-powered drones will provide reliable 5G for IoT and during natural disasters.
Japanese telecommunications giant Softbank has teamed up with with a U.S.-based drone builder to launch a drone-powered internet service by 2023.
Softbank and AeroVironment have already assembled their first drone, the HAWK30. With a 260-foot wingspan, solar panels power 10 electric motors, the drone can fly 12 miles (65,000 feet) above sea level — twice the height of commercial aircraft.
This high altitude provides the “floating base station in the stratosphere” with a steady current. The companies hope it will yield more widespread LTA and 5G coverage than available at lower altitudes. The HAWK30’s base stations — High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) — can provide service to about 125-square-miles. Approximately 40 HAPS could cover the entire Japanese archipelago.
Softbank wants to create connectivity that doesn’t rely on wired or radio-based assets, which natural disasters can damage or destroy. The company is evaluating satellite backhaul internet links that would operate in low earth orbit.
Softbank is also working on integrating its HAPS augmented service into the customer experience. Terrestrial base stations and HAWK30 will enable smooth handovers between networks. This connectivity should prevent communication disruption when someone moves between base stations to areas covered by HAWK30. Plus, in the event of a disaster, customers won’t struggle with connecting to their mobile network operator.
The drone-based service will do more than ameliorate connectivity issues that result from natural disasters. Tim Farr, president of TMF Associates says the technology will effectively provide internet coverage to remote areas.