Connecting the Unconnected: HAPS Alliance Leaders Discuss “The Future of 5G in Sky and Space Non-Terrestrial Networks”

By Jeff Smith, HAPS Alliance Marketing and Communications Working Group Co-Chair

HAPS Alliance member Nokia sponsored “The Future of 5G in Sky and Space Non-Terrestrial Networks” webinar hosted by AFCEA International on Thursday, July 14, 2022. The panel featured HAPS Alliance leaders including HAPS Alliance President Ken Riordan, principal architect at Nokia; HAPS Alliance Vice President Greg Ewert, vice president of corporate strategy and business development at Intelsat; and HAPS Alliance Marketing & Communications Working Group Co-Chair Jeff Smith, head of connectivity at Airbus.

The panel discussion opened with a common misconception: many people believe that everyone is connected to the internet; however, that’s not the case. Roughly half of humanity, or 3.8 billion people, does not have access to the internet. About 50% of the world’s land is covered by internet service – meaning that 50% is unconnected.

So, how do we fix this? Steve Vogelsang, chief technology officer at Nokia, noted that the only cost-effective solution is to look at ways to connect the non-terrestrial networks that we have now, such as air-to-ground networks and satellite communication networks, with high-altitude platform systems (HAPS). Understanding these HAPS stratospheric use cases is important for moving the industry forward.

HAPS Alliance President Ken Riordan highlighted a few distinct ways in which the industry is approaching this stratospheric network opportunity. From across the spectrum of aviation platforms, he discussed three main HAPS options: high stratospheric balloons, unmanned high-altitude fixed-wing aircrafts, and airships, such as lighter-than-air vehicles with some degree of lateral motion.

Riordan pointed out that, in aviation technology, developments in lightweight material and AI technologies have brought the HAPS industry to a point where expanding internet access to the unconnected can soon become a reality.

HAPS Alliance Vice President Greg Ewert noted that in the last couple of years, companies involved in HAPS have been working together with standardization bodies like 3GPP. Ewert stated that no one technology or network can handle all the world’s needs from a resolution, disaster recovery and coverage standpoint. He explained that the goal is to take all these networks and seamlessly blend them together so that end users do not notice that they are switching between networks. With new technology being tested, including HAPS solutions, Ewert is optimistic about reaching that goal and connecting the billions of unconnected.

By providing a wide range of HAPS connectivity services to meet a customer’s base needs, mobile network operators can support the observation capabilities of near-real-time video solutions and high-precision photography to enhance applications for connectivity. There are many use cases that showcase HAPS technologies’ usefulness. The HAPS Alliance’s standardization work, the Alliance believes, will enable customers to have a fair choice to use the right technology for the right application.

The HAPS Alliance unites companies from telecommunications, technology, aviation and aerospace industries to drive the education, regulation and promotion of HAPS in the stratosphere. By collectively advocating for the advantages of HAPS with relevant authorities in various countries, HAPS Alliance member companies are working to build a cooperative HAPS ecosystem, develop common product specifications and promote the standardization of HAPS network interoperability. To learn more and join the HAPS Alliance, visit our membership page.

To listen to the full webinar at no charge, register here.