Why collaboration is key to the widespread adoption of HAPS

Ryuji Wakikawa, Senior Vice President, Board Director of HAPSMobile Inc.
Vice President, Head of Advanced Technology Division of SoftBank Corp.
HAPS Mobile's unmanned aircraft system (Photo credit: NASA/Carla Thomas)
HAPSMobile’s unmanned aircraft system (Photo credit: NASA/Carla Thomas)

HAPSMobile Inc. (“HAPSMobile”) was established in 2017 as a subsidiary of SoftBank Corp., one of Japan’s leading mobile network operators. We’re guided by SoftBank’s Corporate Philosophy, “Information Revolution – Happiness for everyone,” and aim to contribute to the wellbeing of people and society. SoftBank is a company that has contributed to the growth of the Internet, first with PC broadband and then mobile broadband, and we believe it’s our duty to continue this expansion of Internet. The fact that almost half the world’s population is still not connected to the Internet concerns us, and we saw the High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) business as a means to bridge this digital divide. 

HAPSMobile is developing technology, business and regulations for non-terrestrial networks (NTN) using HAPS. In collaboration with our partner AeroVironment, Inc., we developed a solar-powered unmanned aircraft designed for stratospheric telecommunications platform systems that flies approximately 20km above ground, and the aircraft has already successfully completed a number of test flights. We also partnered with Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet that provides Internet access from high-altitude balloons, and jointly developed a communication payload together.

Since we’re a subsidiary of a major mobile network operator, HAPSMobile brings a unique perspective to the Alliance. We have expertise in providing connectivity solutions and will use our experience to contribute to the standardization process. As an operator of HAPS, HAPSMobile can also contribute by utilizing its platform to conduct collaborative trials and pilot programs. This will help demonstrate the viability of HAPS and validate concepts and technologies being developed.

Speaking as the Head of Advanced Technology at SoftBank Corp., as a carrier we’ll adopt HAPS on its own merits. SoftBank recognizes that it’s essential to build a system with interoperability, backward compatibility and non-interference with existing networks. To maximize HAPS’ potential as an NTN, we need to ensure HAPS co-exists with current systems by coordinating on communication protocols, operation, regulatory systems, ground stations and other aspects. We of course recognize the need to work closely with other carriers in these areas, as they support key mobile infrastructure all over the world.

Why did we decide to found the HAPS Alliance? The stratosphere is an unexplored frontier and a completely new space for productive activities that can bring connectivity to people and things around the world. Therefore, we realized that new standards and regulatory policies in the aviation and telecom sectors, as well as coordinated efforts across industries, were needed to make HAPS solutions a reality. This led us to the decision to co-found the Alliance. With a united voice, we believe we can greatly accelerate the adoption of HAPS. There are various challenges related to awareness and regulation, but if we face them together, we believe we can all effectively utilize the stratosphere for the benefit of humankind. We believe it’s also important to demonstrate to partners how HAPS, as an NTN, complements other existing network solutions, including terrestrial networks and satellites.

It’s our hope that the Alliance will help create a robust HAPS ecosystem that will help all of us accelerate the commercialization of HAPS services and make HAPS solutions economically feasible. The Alliance is truly needed now–if the industry is fragmented it will take a long time to establish regulations and make HAPS a global standard.

We actively encourage other companies to join the Alliance. By participating, they can join leaders from various industries to contribute to the creation of a completely new global business while addressing a wide array of social issues. Participants can also exchange information with other Alliance members to gain insights into the latest technologies and regulatory issues in different regions. By getting access to commercial use cases, they’ll also be able to contribute to the deployment of better networks and solutions that are used for disaster response and earth observation.

We’re tremendously excited to be working closely with world-leading companies across different industries in the HAPS Alliance. We particularly look forward to shaping new regulations and frameworks in the aviation industry to ensure the coexistence of HAPS vehicles in the upper airspace. We also look forward to collaborating in education and advocacy so we can see the global harmonization of HAPS spectrum. Most importantly, we’re excited that our fellow members share a common vision to bridge the digital divide. By pooling our efforts, we can ensure that HAPS benefits people around the globe.