Rwanda, SoftBank Inaugurate World’s First 5G Connectivity from Stratosphere

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The Government of Rwanda and SoftBank announced that on September 24, 2023, they successfully tested SoftBank’s proprietary 5G communications payload in the stratosphere installed on a solar-powered High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype.

The demonstration, conducted for HAPS research purposes in Rwandan airspace by SoftBank and the Government of Rwanda, marked the world’s first publicly announced delivery of 5G connectivity from a HAPS UAV in the stratosphere*1. The successful 5G connectivity demonstration follows a stratospheric flight test conducted in Rwanda in June 2023, during which the HAPS UAV prototype carried a mockup of the payload with a similar weight and dimensions.

SoftBank’s stratosphere-ready communications payload continuously delivered 5G connectivity for approximately 73 minutes in the stratosphere at a maximum altitude of 16.9km and performed as expected in demanding atmospheric conditions.

During the test, the stratosphere-ready 5G communications payload enabled a 5G-based Zoom video call between a smartphone at the test site in Rwanda and SoftBank team members in Japan. Since the radio waves transmitted and received from the 5G communications payload installed on the HAPS UAV prototype in the stratosphere operated on the same frequencies as existing smartphones and devices, a regular 5G smartphone was used in the test.

The successful stratospheric 5G communications test is a milestone achievement that originates from a Memorandum of Understanding signed in July 2020 by SoftBank’s subsidiary HAPSMobile Inc.*2 and the Ministry of ICT and Innovation of Rwanda, under which both parties pledged to conduct a Joint Research Project (JRP) that aimed to study the productive use of HAPS to provide mobile Internet connectivity in Rwanda and other solutions. More recently, SoftBank and the Government of Rwanda’s Ministry of Education signed a Partnership Agreement in June 2023 to provide educational technology (EdTech) services in Rwanda using Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) solutions.

Building on the results of this successful stratospheric 5G connectivity demonstration, SoftBank and the Government of Rwanda will study potential HAPS use cases and commercial implementation in Rwanda, and other regions of Africa, in the JRP framework. Use cases under consideration include digitalizing schools and communities in rural communities without Internet connectivity.

 

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