NTT Docomo-led consortium injects $100M investment into Aalto HAPS

The investment establishes a strategic alliance for launching HAPS-based connectivity and Earth observation services in Japan and other markets in 2026.

Gigi Onag, Senior Editor, APAC

June 4, 2024

3 Min Read
Aalto HAPS_Zephyr
(Source: Aalto HAPS)

A Japanese consortium led by NTT Docomo has pledged to invest $100 million in Airbus subsidiary Aalto HAPS, which manufactures and operates the solar-powered Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS).

The investment establishes a strategic alliance for launching HAPS-based connectivity and Earth observation services in Japan and other markets in 2026, NTT Docomo said in a statement issued Monday.

Besides the Japanese telco operator, the consortium is composed of Space Compass, Mizuho Bank and the Development Bank of Japan. The investment was made through the consortium's investment vehicle HAPS Japan.

HAPS is an NTN (non-terrestrial network) technology competing with low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for the deployment of broadband Internet from space. According to ITU Radio Regulations (RR), HAPS are radio stations located on an object at an altitude of 20-50km and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth.

NTT Docomo said that Zephyr, which can stay up in the stratosphere for months, can transform into a multi-functional tower in the sky to provide low-latency 5G direct-to-device mobile connectivity services.

Leveraging Airbus' Earth observation service, Strat-Observer, the telco operator added Zephyr can also be used to fulfil a range of monitoring, tracking, sensing and detection applications. Aalto is therefore well-positioned for a variety of use cases, such as expanding mobile network operator (MNO) coverage and providing high-capacity connectivity including during Japan's response to natural disasters.

Related:Japan's telco operators make steady progress on satellite initiatives

"Working with our partners Space Compass, AALTO and Airbus, we are excited by the potential of HAPS-based NTN solutions. This technology brings together unique cutting-edge engineering with economics that are aligned to expand coverage to rural and remote areas, and support our collective response to natural disasters," Takaaki Sato, NTT Docomo chief technology officer, said in a press release.

Deepening ties

The $100 million investment deepens the ongoing collaboration that started in 2022 between Aalto HAPS, NTT Docomo and Space Compass, which is a joint venture between NTT and SKY Perfect JSAT.

In April 2023, Space Compass and Aalto HAPS signed a contract for a proof of concept (PoC) demonstration flight of the latter's stratospheric drone platform.

The company's contract with Aalto involves building a communications and Earth observation service using HAPS starting in Japan as part of Space Compass' Space Integrated Computing Network.

The HAPS element comes from Aalto, which has developed Zephyr, a solar-powered UAS (unmanned aerial system). The satellites come from SKY Perfect JSAT's extensive fleet and the terrestrial elements are provided by NTT Docomo.

"This investment comes as Aalto moves into its next phase of development. This includes launching several customer missions over the coming year, establishing launch and landing sites for Zephyr, and advancing our certification process," Samer Halawi, Aato HAPS CEO, said in a press release.

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About the Author(s)

Gigi Onag

Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading

Gigi Onag is Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading. She has been a technology journalist for more than 15 years, covering various aspects of enterprise IT across Asia-Pacific.

She started with regional IT publications under CMP Asia (now Informa), including Asia Computer Weekly, Intelligent Enterprise Asia and Network Computing Asia and Teledotcom Asia. This was followed by stints with Computerworld Hong Kong and sister publications FutureIoT and FutureCIO. She had contributed articles to South China Morning Post, TechTarget and PC Market among others.

She interspersed her career as a technology editor with a brief sojourn into public relations before returning to journalism, joining the editorial team of Mix Magazine, a MICE publication and its sister publication Business Traveller Asia Pacific.

Gigi is based in Hong Kong and is keen to delve deeper into the region’s wide wild world of telecoms.

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