Ericsson, Nokia join SoftBank, Loon and more in HAPS Alliance

There’s a new alliance in town, and it’s led by some heavy hitters in telecom, technology and aviation. The HAPS Alliance was formed to promote the use of high-altitude vehicles in the Earth’s stratosphere to eliminate the digital divide and bring connectivity to more people and things worldwide.

The membership includes Softbank’s HAPSMobile and Alphabet’s Loon—not exactly newbies to the space—but also more traditional wireless vendors in the form of Ericsson and Nokia. Also on board: Deutsche Telekom AG, China Telecom, Telefónica S.A., Bharti Airtel, SoftBank, Airbus Defence and Space, AeroVironment and Intelsat.

“The HAPS Alliance is being created so member companies can collectively advocate for High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) business development with the relevant authorities in various countries, build a cooperative HAPS ecosystem, develop common product specifications and promote the standardization of HAPS network interoperability,” the group announced in a press release.

The group added that all of these activities will be key to its aim of addressing diverse social issues and creating new value by providing telecom network connectivity worldwide through the use of high altitude vehicles. 

The formation of the alliance follows a strategic alliance that HAPSMobile and Loon formed back in April 2019 that included HAPSMobile investing $125 million in Loon. At the time, the arrangement enabled HAPSMobile to use Loon’s balloons while it worked on its own Hawk 30 solar-powered drone vehicles, and Loon to use the Hawk vehicles when completed.

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The stratosphere where high-altitude platforms operate is above ground infrastructure but below satellites, making it ideal for near ubiquitous coverage that avoids ground clutter and significant latency issues, according to the alliance. Such advantages make the vehicles a promising solution for expanding mobile coverage to areas where connectivity is lacking, such as mountainous terrain, remote islands, marine regions and developing countries, as well as for IoT and 5G use-cases.  

“The stratosphere represents an enormous opportunity to bring the benefits of connectivity to more people around the world,” said Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth in a statement. “But we will only be successful in harnessing the potential of the stratosphere if we come together to advocate for and collaborate on the technologies that will make this possible. This HAPS Alliance is an important step forward in building an established industry that will help us realize the promise of the stratosphere to connect people everywhere.”

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As part of its activities, the new alliance said it will be advocating for global harmonization of HAPS spectrum, including the adoption, improvement and acceleration of global spectrum standardization for High Altitude IMT Base Stations within the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The alliance said it will also work to influence emerging commercial standards, including 3GPP non-terrestrial networks.

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Investments in HAPS have met varying degrees of success by individual companies, so the combination of efforts makes sense. Facebook got out of the Aquila drone-building business back in 2018, when it said it would focus on partnerships instead. The social networking giant at the time said it had discovered that since it started the Aquila program in 2014, more companies started getting involved and investing in the technology, including leading companies in the aerospace industry.