SoftBank finds 5G HAPS success in Rwanda

According to SoftBank, the HAPS payload delivered 5G connectivity continuously for approximately 73 minutes at a maximum altitude of 10.5 miles

SoftBank — via its subsidiary HAPSMobile Inc. — and the government of Rwanda revealed this week that they recently conducted a 5G communications trial from a high-altitude psuedosatellite or platform station (HAPS), an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype. For the test, the pair used SoftBank’s proprietary 5G communications payload in the stratosphere, which ranges from four to 12 miles above the Earth’s surface to around 31 miles.

According to SoftBank, the payload delivered 5G connectivity continuously for approximately 73 minutes at a maximum altitude of 10.5 miles, and enabled a 5G-based Zoom video call between a 5G smartphone located at the Rwanda test site and a SoftBank team in Japan.

Junichi Miyakawa, president and CEO of SoftBank, said the results of the trial were “far beyond” the company’s expectations. “This test marks an important step forward in our aim of bridging the digital divide with HAPS and other NTN solutions. We are grateful to the Government of Rwanda for their unwavering support and look forward to working with them to study use cases for commercial implementation,” he added.

HAPS stands for High-Altitude Platform Station, although they are also sometimes referred to as High-Altitude Pseudo Satellites, and they can come in the form of airships, balloons or fixed-wing drones. They carry telecom payloads and can provide stratosphere-based connectivity to devices on the ground. So far, HAPS have been used largely for temporary coverage, such as during disaster recovery, but there is increasing hope that they may be used for more enduring and reliable coverage in unconnected areas, as they are not subject to the high costs associated with other infrastructure like cell towers and satellites.

“The successful 5G delivery stratospheric test we conducted is promising. It represents a significant step towards narrowing the digital divide and enhancing digital inclusion with innovative solutions,” said the Minister of ICT and Innovation of the Republic of Rwanda Paula Ingabire.

The HAPS partnership in Rwanda first kicked off in July 2020, when HAPSMobile and the country’s Ministry of ICT and Innovation signed a Memorandum of Understanding around development of this technology. With a successful trial now squared away, the pair said they will explore possible HAPS use cases, as well as what commercial implementation might look like both in Rwanda and in surrounding regions of Africa.

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