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February 9, 2024
The pace is picking up for Japan's high-altitude platform station (HAPS) technology, with the first services slated to start as early as next year.
The technology, which involves deployment of high-altitude aircraft as basestations, was developed by mobile operator SoftBank Corp., but has now been embraced by rival NTT and partners in a program driven by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT).
NICT, the leading national IT research body, two months ago tasked NTT and Sky Perfect JSAT and their JV Space Compass to develop a direct-to-device service that can also support future 6G services.
Space Compass says it plans to launch its first HAPS services in 2025 or early 2026.
It will lead the project, with DoCoMo developing ground basestations, NTT building the control technology and Sky Perfect focusing on satellite backhaul and ground gateway connections.
HAPS – or high-altitude platform station – is deployed at around 20 kilometers above earth, which is beyond the height at which aircraft fly and usually above cloud level. It has a propagation radius of 50 km to 100km.
HAPS received validation from the wider industry last November when the World Radio Conference set aside three new HAPS spectrum bands: 700-900MHz, 1.7GHz, and 2.5GHz. Previously only 2GHz had been allocated.
Yuki Hokazono, an engineer in DoCoMo's 6G network innovation department, said DoCoMo believed HAPS would enable new use cases like drone delivery and flying cars and open up new opportunities in existing industries like agriculture and fisheries.
He says HAPS has two great advantages. One is its latency of 0.1-0.7 ms – well ahead of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which deliver around 4-40 ms. The other, which is even more important, is its ability to connect directly to existing smartphones.
DoCoMo staff believe a HAPS service would have been invaluable in responding to the January 1 Noto Earthquake, enabling responders to communicate with residents and each other more readily than with the LEO systems that were deployed.
NTT DoCoMo is working on its own LEO and GEO satellite projects as well. In December it started its Starlink business service with Sky Perfect JSAT, which it expects will be used for remote monitoring, IoT and high-speed data for ships at sea. NTT, NTT DoCoMo and SKY Perfect JSAT also have just launched a partnership with AWS and Project Kuiper. The operator debuted its WideStar III geosatellite phone service in October, aimed at remote industries like marine and also emergency services.
Read more about:Asia
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