The Importance of HAPS in Connecting the World from the Skies

By HAPS Alliance Vice President Greg Ewert, vice president, strategy and business development, Intelsat

Many people believe that everyone is connected to the internet; however, only 40% of the world’s land is covered by internet service, which means 40% of humanity, or 2.9. billion people, don’t have access to the internet. To connect the unconnected, HAPS technology offers the potential to unlock of Earth’s stratosphere as the next great frontier for advancements to enhance connectivity around the globe. With its close proximity to Earth, the stratosphere offers substantial opportunities to advance many industries–spanning telecommunications, high-resolution Earth observation, weather prediction, and modeling.

To approach this stratospheric network opportunity, 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.

I was pleased to share HAPS benefits and opportunities with the international community recently.

Sharing the Advantages of HAPS with the World

On November 8–10, 2022 over 3,000 industry pioneers, public and private sector executives, researchers and innovators gathered at the International Forum on Connecting the World from the Skies in Riyadh. Over three days, we heard from fascinating speakers who explored topics that address the future of global communications and ways to connect the unconnected via innovative and sustainable solutions.

I had the pleasure of showcasing the advantages and achievements of HAPS at the forum on the opening of the second day on behalf of the HAPS Alliance. You can watch my full presentation here, but I’d like to share a few thoughts based on my talk below.

Connecting the Unconnected

With 2.9 billion people around the world — about 40% of the population —  unconnected is an incredible number of people who can’t access the educational, communications, economic and other benefits of the Internet.

I truly believe that HAPS can connect this last mile of people, no matter where they live, and at a faster rate than most of us would think. Even more importantly, HAPS could unleash the potential of the unconnected and less connected in ways that will benefit everyone: perhaps our next Einstein is being born today in a small village in Uganda, or our next Mozart is taking her first steps somewhere in rural Thailand. They will need connectivity to become who they were meant to be.

View HAPS Alliance Presentation at “Connecting the World from the Skies” Forum

When you look at the HAPS technologies — fixed wings, balloons, and airships — the thing we love most about them is that they can go up very quickly because they’re basically traditional assets that we have re-engineered for a non-terrestrial network (NTN)-type connectivity. From the standpoint of the HAPS Alliance, we love them all, and they’re all going to be needed in future applications.

Opportunities, Applications, and Greater Benefits

HAPS technologies are also very cost-effective. We’re hearing numbers ranging anywhere from $2 to $4 million for an asset that can fundamentally cover 450 network towers. It’s pretty amazing when you think about how far technology has come in the last few years. Further, connectivity is the biggest market that’s out there; it’s about a $150 billion marketplace on a global basis. This helps ensure that there’s a commercial ROI that is important for a strong ecosystem.

It’s not just about connectivity, however. If you look at earth observation, security and defense, government mapping, monitoring, and surveillance — all these applications are fundamentally ones and zeros; they’re digits that go across these networks. What they really represent are opportunities to stop wildfires while they’re still small, evacuate people who live in the paths of hurricanes, monitor oil pipelines for problems, and answer so many other challenges that we all face.

Collaboration is the Key

We envision a world where, not only will you see across there a combination of geostationary, medium earth orbit (MEO) and low earth orbit (LEO), but you’ll also have HAPS. Sitting below HAPS, you’ll have any additional tethered assets that we need for temporary relief systems and things of that nature. They will all be a part of one robust system.

To tap into the power of these technologies, we must work together. No one network or technology can meet the incredible appetite we have for data and data-based applications. The challenge that the HAPS Alliance and we, as an industry, need to think about now is the orchestration that sits behind this.

Come join us to help us connect the unconnected.

Learn About the HAPS Mission and Vision