High-flying 5G could slash network costs

Forget mobile phone masts.

One UK tech company has found a different way to keep us connected by beaming 5G across large areas directly from an aircraft.

Stratospheric Platforms limited CEO Richard Deakin.

“It’s essentially a cell phone tower sitting up in the sky at 60,000 feet and obviously at that sort of altitude it can see much more than any small tower can on the ground and it covers a huge area so unlike a small cell phone tower on the ground which can cover a few kilometres this covers around 140km in diameter, so a vast area, and anywhere within that beam you’re going to be able to connect your cell phone at speeds of over a hundred megabits per second.”

The company says they are developing an emission-free hydrogen fuel-cell system unmanned aircraft, with a wingspan of 197ft - as big as a Boeing 747.

It is able to stay aloft for nine days and each aircraft can do the job of 200 terrestrial towers.

The company says the airborne network could slash the cost of running a next-generation system by as much as 70%.

“A lot of the UK doesn’t have decent cell phone coverage as we know and if you think 4G coverage is bad then the range on 5G is even shorter. So you need even more masts and there are estimates that have been done that suggest for 5G you need an additional 400,000 masts in the UK which is clearly impractical. The advantage of this type of technology is you that avoid the need for putting any those masts in and you can roll this out very quickly without disrupting local communities.”

Each antenna produces 480 steerable beams that can create a pattern of coverage on the ground that can be controlled to cover a specific city, area, shipping lane, motorway – or even a moving target like a train or autonomous car.

The technology also opens up the possibility of providing coverage exactly where required, for example ending at national borders.

Tim Fowler, Chief Sales Officer, Cambridge Consultants.

“The advantage of satellite is you can see large areas of the earth but you are a very long way away. So compared to flying in the stratosphere you’re between ten and a hundred times further away from the surface of the Earth in space than you are at the stratosphere. So it’s an ideal Goldilocks position. You’re far enough up that you can see large areas of the ground, but you are close enough that you can get a very high performance service.”

The platform is due to make its first flight in 2022 with operational deployment expected around 2024.

Video Transcript

REPORTER: Forget mobile phone masts. One UK tech company has found a different way to keep us connected-- by beaming 5G across large areas directly from an aircraft. Stratospheric Platforms Limited CEO Richard Deakin--

RICHARD DEAKIN: It's essentially a cell phone tower sitting up in the sky at 60,000 feet. And obviously, at that sort of altitude, it can see much more than any small tower can on the ground-- and it covers a huge area. So unlike a small cell phone tower on the ground, which can cover a few kilometers, this covers around 140 kilometers in diameter. So vast area. And anywhere within that beam, you're going to be able to connect your cell phone at speeds of over 100 megabits per second.

REPORTER: The company says they're developing an emission-free hydrogen fuel cell system unmanned aircraft, with a wingspan of 197 foot-- as big as a Boeing 747. It's able to stay aloft for nine days, and each aircraft can do the job of 200 terrestrial towers. The company says the airborne network could the cost of running a next-generation system by as much as 70%.

A lot of the UK doesn't have decent cell phone coverage, as we know. And if you think 4G coverage is bad, then the range on 5G is even shorter. So you need even more masts. And there are estimates that have been done that suggest for 5G, you need an additional 400,000 masts in the UK, which is clearly impractical. And the advantage of this type of technology is that you avoid the need for putting any of those masts in, and you can roll this out very quickly without disrupting local communities.

REPORTER: Each antenna produces 480 [? steerable ?] beams that can create a pattern of coverage on the ground that can be controlled to cover a specific city, area, shipping lane, motorway, or even a moving target like a train or autonomous car. The technology also opens up the possibility of providing coverage exactly where required. For example, ending at national borders.

TIM FOWLER: The advantage of of satellite is you can see large areas of the earth, but you're on a very long layaway. So compared to flying in the stratosphere, you're between 10 and 100 times further away from the surface of the Earth in space than you are at the stratosphere. So it's an ideal sort of Goldilocks position. You're far enough up that you can see large areas of the ground, but you're close enough that you can get a very high-performance service.

REPORTER: The platform is due to make its first flight in 2022, with operational deployment expected around 2024.