BT Group and aerospace company Stratospheric Platforms partnered to trial antenna technology mounted on a High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) aircraft, in a bid to deliver mobile connectivity to remote areas of the UK.

The project will employ Stratospheric Platforms’ antenna technology on a HAPS aircraft in the stratosphere to deliver 4G and 5G mobile coverage in hard-to-reach areas, along with enhancing industrial operations and transport systems.

Stratospheric Platforms stated its antenna technology can deliver data rates of 150Mb/s across an area of 15,000 square km, equivalent to the footprint of 450 terrestrial masts, through “500 individually steerable beams”.

In addition to potential uses in improving network coverage, the HAPS set-up may also be used as a back-up for terrestrial networks when needed.

BT and Stratospheric Platforms also highlighted other potential applications include remote monitoring across various industrial and agricultural use cases.

Longer-term, the companies stated the set up has the potential to generate significant cost and energy savings, delivering connectivity to large areas from the skies and “removing the need for extending expensive terrestrial infrastructure in remote areas”.

The trial will take place at BT’s Adastral Park R&D facility and the first phase will involve placing the antenna on a high building to test its interaction with the operator’s 5G architecture and connecting with its open RAN testbed.

Tim Whitley, MD of research and network strategy at BT, noted the trials could “enhance our UK 4G and 5G footprint” by connecting “unserved rural areas”, along with identifying “new use cases for private users”.