Sprint sought permission from the US Federal Communications Commission to test a new aerial telecommunications platform, a move which could boost its IoT and 5G efforts.

The operator said it wants to conduct six months of testing starting 1 November to evaluate the potential uses of High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) alongside HAPSMobile, a joint venture between Sprint parent SoftBank and US-based technology company AeroVironment formed in late 2017.

HAPS refer to networks of unmanned aircraft flying in the stratosphere, acting as telecommunication base stations to provide wide-area connectivity. When linked to ground-based networks, SoftBank said in a statement HAPS can enable drone applications, IoT and 5G technologies.

Sprint said it plans to use both its 1.9GHz (PCS) and 2.5GHz spectrum, and aims to determine whether the HAPS system can maintain a stable link to its LTE network. It will also conduct network handover tests with user equipment and drive testing to measure HAPS signal coverage across the experimental area.

An operator representative declined to provide further detail, but told Mobile World Live it continues to investigate “innovative new solutions to better serve our customers”.

Though initial tests would focus on LTE, Sprint’s proposed use of 2.5GHz spectrum raises the possibility it has an eye toward using the technology for 5G.

This week, Sprint turned on its next generation service in Chicago, the fifth of nine cities in its initial deployment plan.