Friday, 9 April 2021

SPL Looking to Beam 4G/5G from an Aircraft


While we talk about satellite connectivity, drones, HAPS, UAVs, etc., we don't necessarily think about connectivity through an aircraft. Last year, we looked at the announcement from Deutsche Telekom and Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL) where they talked about the world's first successful demonstration of LTE/4G voice and data connectivity over a platform flying at the edge of the stratosphere and fully integrated into a commercial mobile network.

The main advantage of aircraft is that you do not have to worry about designing a new system and can carry higher loads. The disadvantage I can see is that you won't be able to charge using solar cells. That is why the SPL system is using "environmentally-friendly hydrogen fuel cell power system". The SPL website says:

  • The platform is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell system
  • Hydrogen is stored in liquid form, using our breakthrough technology, to deliver the highest energy density source of any aviation platform in the world
  • Not reliant on solar energy and its associated limitations
  • Low environmental impact – water vapour exhaust, no NOx emissions and low noise

They have also developed the world's largest commercial airborne communications antenna. You can see the specific details for the DT deployment that I covered in the earlier post here. Regarding the antenna, the website says:

The Fastest 5G airborne antenna in the world

  • The antenna works with all current and future standards (including 3G, LTE/4G, 5G)
  • Compatible with all consumer smartphones without any hardware or software changes
  • Beam coverage can be formed to match specific shapes, e.g. motorways, canals or shipping lanes

Cambridge Consultants, who are working closely with SPL for the antenna design, have more details on this here.

This Reuters video below provides a lot of technical information.

Let us know if you think we will see more of these going forward in the future.

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