Airbus aims for space-based wireless connectivity

Airbus has announced plans to attempt to develop high-altitude platform stations (HAPS)-based connectivity services in a space-based network.

The secure land communications giant is targeting the creation of a space-based wireless connectivity ecosystem alongside Japan’s Nippon Telegraph (NTT) and Telephone Corporation and SKY Perfect JSAT.

The initial feasibility collaboration will see Airbus’ solar-powered stratospheric unmanned aerial system (UAS) Zephyr attempt to connect to the wireless communication networks of NTT’s 5G mobile platform DOCOMO and SKY Perfect JSAT.

The trio claim they will ultimately be able to launch space-based wireless broadband services to support worldwide mobile communications for 5G and 6G with enhanced air and sea coverage alongside improved ‘disaster resistance networks’. The provision of space-based radio access network (RAN) services include HAPS, which fly in the stratosphere about 20 km above the earth, and non-terrestrial network (NTN) technologies using geostationary-orbit (GEO) satellites and low Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites.

HAPS platforms can also interconnect to the nearest terrestrial network gateway and extend the reach of existing mobile services directly to end-user devices, providing service options including rural, emergency and maritime connectivity.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the companies will see them work together to test the applicability of HAPS for mobile connectivity on the ground including base station backhaul and the technological considerations for linking HAPS with satellites and ground base stations.

This agreement builds on last year’s jointly held trial where Airbus and NTT Docomo demonstrated the Zephyr’s ability to deliver wireless broadband connectivity.

Commenting on the successful Zephyr trial, Stephane Ginoux, head of North Asia region for Airbus, said: “Billions of people across the world suffer from poor or no connectivity. These tests show us the viability of the stratosphere to bridge this divide and provide direct to device connectivity via Zephyr without the need for base stations or extra infrastructure.”