MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA — Loon LLC, Airbus Defence and Space, HAPSMobile Inc., Intelsat US LLC, and Nokia Corporation see a rare, untapped commercial opportunity in the skies above Earth’s atmosphere. All members of the recently-formed HAPS Alliance, the companies outlined in a White Paper published today a multi-billion dollar market opportunity in Earth’s stratosphere that spans telecommunications, high-resolution earth observation, and weather prediction and modeling.
Earth’s stratosphere — which spans from just above the lower atmosphere to the edge of space — has long been deemed unsuitable for commercial operations because of its harsh conditions. However, advances in technology over the last decade have made operating in the stratosphere possible, making the region ripe for commercial activity going forward.
The White Paper outlines significant opportunity in the telecommunications sector, with the ability of stratospheric technologies to drive significant growth in the $3.9 trillion mobile technologies and services business by bringing millions of people online, reconnecting people after disasters, building out the next generation of 5G networks, and connecting the future of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Another area of commercial opportunity outlined in the White Paper is earth observation (EO) and weather prediction and modeling. The $3 billion satellite segment of the EO market is growing steadily, as is the $4.4 billion drone service market. As stratospheric technologies develop, they will tap into portions of both markets, while stimulating new market demand due to their unique capabilities. Potential use-cases include: collecting data around natural and man-made disasters to enable more effective responses to wildfires, oil spills, floods and more; tracking meteorology to improve weather forecasts; monitoring natural resources, agriculture and infrastructure; and tracking large stretches of oceans for illegal fishing, pollution, or piracy.
While the stratospheric market is in its nascent stages, the enormous opportunities are drawing attention from a variety of sectors, including aviation and space manufacturers, global technology leaders, telecommunications operators, and startups. Some notable activities include:
- Loon has flown thousands of stratospheric vehicles, with an average flight duration of over 4 months and a 223-day flight duration record, delivering connectivity to over 300,000 people in partnership with telecom operators such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Telefonica.
- Airbus completed a 26-day stratospheric flight using a fixed-wing vehicle.
- SoftBank Corp.’s HAPSMobile, in partnership with AeroVironment, and Boeing are developing fixed wing vehicles spanning approximately 80 meters.
- World View completed a 40+ day balloon flight, and Raven regularly flies balloon missions.
- Thales and Sceye are developing high altitude airships.
Evert Dudok, Executive Vice President, Airbus Defence and Space: “HAPS are complementary to satellites, UAVs and manned aircraft providing affordable, persistent, local satellite-like services. They will revolutionise the way we are able to manage environmental and humanitarian earth observation and communications missions around the World”.
Junichi Miyakawa, Representative Director & CTO, SoftBank Corp. / President & CEO, HAPSMobile Inc.: “Both SoftBank Corp. and its subsidiary HAPSMobile are working to connect all people and things around the world, and we share Loon’s vision of bridging the digital divide by utilizing the stratosphere. HAPS also represents a strong addition to telecommunications infrastructure thanks to its resilience in times of natural disasters and its wide-area connectivity from the sky, which enables drone utilization, IoT applications and 5G deployment. We’re excited to be working with Loon as a strategic partner, and we’ve already made great progress by jointly developing a communications payload for our unmanned aircraft system. We look forward to continued collaboration with Loon to deploy cutting-edge technologies and to further advance the business potential of HAPS.”
Greg Ewert, Vice President, Strategy & Business Development, Intelsat: “As the foundational architects of space-based communications and video broadcast services, Intelsat is continuously exploring new innovations that advance and secure boundless applications for our customers. Ubiquitous communications on a truly global scale that delivers on the growing expectations for low latency and high speed will require the integration of numerous networks and technologies working together in harmony. Intelsat is committed to turning the promise of global communications ubiquity into reality through the advancement of exciting innovations. We view opportunities in the stratosphere as a logical extension to our network designs.”
Alastair Westgarth, CEO, Loon LLC: “The untapped opportunities of the stratosphere are immense. While just ten years ago it seemed an inhospitable place for almost all activities, technology is now enabling us to harness the unique advantages of the stratosphere for a wide range of commercial operations. It’s an exciting time to be on the forefront of this exploration enabled by innovation.”
Kathrin Buvac, President, Nokia Enterprise: “As stewards of innovation, we are proud to collaborate with Alphabet’s Loon to connect the unconnected. Together, we bring an unparalleled combination of skills, expertise and technology to overcome the challenges associated with high-altitude networking infrastructure. Enhanced LTE wireless networking today, and 5G tomorrow will deliver major economic and societal benefits to communities in remote and challenging environments.”
About the HAPS Alliance
The goal of the HAPS Alliance is to address diverse social issues and create new value by providing telecommunications network connectivity worldwide through the utilization of high altitude vehicles. The Alliance is working to accelerate the development and commercial adoption of HAPS technology by promoting and building industry-wide standards, interoperability guidelines and regulatory policies in both the telecommunication and aviation industries. Current members of the Alliance include: SoftBank Corp.’s HAPSMobile Inc. (“HAPSMobile”), Alphabet’s Loon LLC (“Loon”), AeroVironment, Inc. (“AeroVironment”), Airbus Defence and Space, Bharti Airtel Limited (“Bharti Airtel”), China Telecom Corporation Limited (“China Telecom”), Deutsche Telekom AG (“Deutsche Telekom”), Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (“Ericsson”), Intelsat US LLC (“Intelsat”), Nokia Corporation, SoftBank Corp., and Telefónica S.A. (“Telefónica”).