High Altitude Platform Stations can bridge the digital divide, globally. What’s missing? 

High Altitude Platform Stations can bridge the digital divide, globally. What’s missing? 

High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) have the potential to reduce the digital access gap worldwide. Finding a way to make them available is an international regulatory priority – and an opportunity for first movers.

HAPS are communication infrastructure deployed in the stratosphere that can remain aloft for extended periods using wing-mounted solar cells.  

Significant investment has gone into HAPS during the last decade, and HAPS have the potential to revolutionise connectivity and become an indispensable component of next generation communications. A report published in 2020 estimated that the HAPS market could generate USD 4 billion in value by 2029.

Newer versions of HAPS benefit from drone technology and are fitted with sophisticated sensors that enable more robust propulsion systems so they can carry heavier payloads and remain in the air for longer. Technical and financial advantages specific to this type of infrastructure include: 

  • The possibility to connect people in remote areas 
  • A more flexible and tangible technology 
  • Contribution to meeting goals set by the UN’s Sustainable Development initiative 

However, the introduction of HAPS into the world’s connectivity toolkit is just starting, and the current regulatory framework governing the operation of HAPS could result in a slow uptake of the technology.  

Only a handful of jurisdictions have developed any evolved procedures, guidance material, or market access routes for HAPS operations. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently conducted the world’s first 5G test using HAPS, and included this kind of airborne connectivity in their recently issued Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) regulations. Other than Saudi Arabia, almost no countries have seized on the opportunity for HAPS to be deployed in their national territories. The world needs a country, with the right geographical and economic conditions, to give this technology the showcase opportunity. The opportunity to enable HAPS will fall to first-mover markets.

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