SoftBank Corp. announced the launch of a high-altitude platform station (HAPS) business through HAPSMobile, a joint venture between SoftBank and U.S.-based company AeroVironment. With the aim of constructing a HAPS system that delivers telecommunications network connectivity from the sky for a global business, HAPSMobile developed Hawk 30. Hawk 30, an unmanned aircraft for stratospheric telecommunications, is a platform system that flies at altitudes of approximately 20 km (12 mi).

HAPS refers to systems where unmanned objects such as aircraft flying in the stratosphere can be operated like telecommunication base stations to deliver connectivity across wide areas. By using HAPS, SoftBank says it will be able to build stable Internet connection environments at locations unserved by telecommunication networks, such as mountainous terrain, remote islands, and developing countries. SoftBank adds that by efficiently interconnecting with current telecommunication networks, it will be able to realize wide-area connectivity that spans both the sky and the ground to enable drone utilization, as well as contribute to the adoption of IoT and 5G. Since HAPS can provide stable telecommunications networks without being affected by situations on the ground, the technology is also expected to help assist rescue and recovery efforts during times of disasters.

Hawk 30 measures approximately 78 m (256 ft) long. Powered by solar panels on its wings that house 10 propellers, Hawk 30 can fly at speeds of approximately 110 km/h (68 mph) on average. Since Hawk 30 flies at high altitudes above the clouds, its solar panels are continually powered by sunlight. Hawk 30 can also be flown for long periods that range up to a number of months since it takes advantage of the stratosphere’s climate, which sees winds that are relatively gentle year-round.

The telecommunications network to be delivered to the ground by Hawk 30 is expected to use a system that does not interfere with the networks of terrestrial base stations. In addition, smooth handovers between networks provided by terrestrial base stations and by Hawk 30 will also reportedly be possible. As a result, communication disruption will not occur even when a person using a smartphone moves from a base station covered area to a Hawk 30 covered area, according to the company.

With a view to providing sky-based telecommunications networks that use HAPS globally, HAPSMobile will conduct research and development and flight tests while coordinating with the relevant authorities in various countries and giving consideration to business-related regulations. HAPSMobile is targeting 2023 for Hawk 30 mass production and service launch.