The Japanese telecommunications industry aims to regain global prominence by introducing flying base stations, known as high altitude platform stations (HAPS), in 2025. This innovative technology is designed to enhance network coverage by deploying unmanned vehicles in the stratosphere.
In recent years, countries worldwide have been racing to implement 5G, the fastest commercially available wireless connectivity. Notably, China has set a record in this endeavor, surpassing the US market with over three million installed base stations, as reported by Interesting Engineering.
Statista, a data aggregator, reveals that there are over five billion internet users globally. However, internet service penetration remains low in certain regions, like parts of Africa, where only 24 percent of the population has access. The challenge of establishing base stations in remote areas contributes to limited coverage, a challenge that HAPS aims to address.
Ground-based stations typically have a coverage range of 3-10 km, depending on the topography. Achieving large-scale internet service availability requires a significant number of base stations, and the deployment process is hindered by resource constraints in many countries. Telecom companies, including Japan’s NTT, see HAPS as a next-generation solution to bridge the digital divide.
Similar to Elon Musk’s Starlink, which offers space-based internet services, HAPS utilizes solar-powered drones flying at altitudes of 18-25 km to provide mobile services. The coverage of one such module is expected to reach 200 km.
Japanese companies plan to provide a comprehensive solution, bundling aerial vehicles, telecom equipment, and operational management for simplified deployment. However, for global adoption of this technology, universal technological criteria must be established to ensure its applicability in diverse markets.