The new partnership between BT Group and Stratospheric Platforms (SPL) will see the development of a new connectivity solution, which delivers fast and reliable 4G and 5G coverage to hard-to-reach areas of the UK.
The collaboration is currently under a trial phase - which is being funded by Innovate UK - taking place at BT’s Adastral Park facility.
The details of the new BT and SPL mobile coverage trial
BT Group and SPL are now testing the delivery of mobile coverage using an innovative new antenna technology. This is designed to be mounted on a High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) aircraft.
The aim of the trials is to create a complete solution to one of the biggest challenges of mobile connectivity – successfully getting coverage to the most rural, isolated areas.
If successful, the project could offer opportunities for sectors such as transport, maritime security and search and rescue, alongside improving the connectivity available to consumers.
SPL’s antenna technology can provide uninterrupted 4G and 5G connectivity directly to consumer smartphones. The phased array antenna is capable of delivering faster speeds - in some cases up to 150 mbps across areas as wide as 140 km or 15,000 sq km, through 500 individually steerable beams.
What’s more, the solution is designed to be both affordable and sustainable. The HAPS solution is expected to deliver significant cost and energy savings, as the phased array antenna and the flight platform is powered by hydrogen. Plus, by providing 4G and 5G connectivity to large areas from the skies, there is no need to extend expensive terrestrial infrastructure in these areas.
The first phase of the project will see the development of a secure 5G HAPS communications demonstration system. SPL’s phased array antenna will be placed on a high building (simulating a high-altitude platform), to test its interaction with BT’s 5G secure architecture, connecting with its Open RAN testbed. This test will include supporting multiple user groups and different potential use cases, concurrently on the same network.
“We’re delighted to be partnering with SPL to start realising the huge potential of HAPS aircraft to further strengthen our UK 4G and 5G network technology leadership,” commented Tim Whitley, Managing Director Research and Network Strategy, BT Group.
“This highly innovative and transformative project has the potential to further enhance our UK 4G and 5G footprint, which is already the largest and most reliable in the UK, to connect unserved rural areas and enable exciting new use cases for private users.
“The SPL team is excited to be working with BT Group to further advance its breakthrough UK-developed technology. This partnership will build further on SPL’s world-first 5G demonstration from the stratosphere achieved in 2022. With BT, we’re pleased to continue our journey supporting the UK to become a science super-power,” added Richard Deakin, CEO, SPL.