stratosphere 4g network

Stratospheric 4G network realised with antennas fitted to plane

Image credit: deutsche telecom

Deutsche Telekom (DT) has tested an aerial base station that can provide 4G signal from space to smartphone users on the ground, which could help to improve coverage in areas lacking ground-based infrastructure.

The German telecoms company said this was the world’s first successful demonstration of 4G voice and data connectivity over a platform flying at the edge of the stratosphere and fully integrated into a commercial mobile network.

At the beginning of October, several test flights were carried out in Bavaria with a remote-controlled aircraft system at an altitude of approximately 14km.

The antennas installed on the aircraft allowed a smartphone on the ground to achieve download speeds of 70Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps in the 2.1GHz range over a channel bandwidth of 10MHz.

The high flight altitude, coupled with an almost unobstructed view of the ground, should allow an airplane to use special antennas to supply radio cells with a diameter of up to 100km, boosting the coverage of existing mobile phone networks on the ground.

For customers, the transition of the connection from a classic cellular mast to a flying antenna happens smoothly in the background and unnoticed.

“We have shown that we can bring fast internet and connectivity anywhere in the future. The combined know-how of SPL and Telekom’s mobile communications expertise is the basis for this new technology,” said Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, managing director of DT subsidiary Deutsche Funkturm.

“Particularly in areas that are difficult to access with traditional mobile masts, flying base stations will be a useful and cost-efficient addition to our mobile communications network”.

Stratospheric Platforms Limited, which worked with DT on the project, wants to develop a hydrogen-powered, remote-controlled aircraft for future services, with the first flight scheduled for mid 2022.

The on-board antenna, weighing 140kg, will supposedly be capable of doing the job of 200 terrestrial towers.

Google spin-off firm Loon has been trialling similar services using high-altitude balloons to run wireless networks. Facebook grounded an experimental solar-powered internet drone two years ago after concluding it was not feasible.

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