LIVE FROM MWC KIGALI 2023: Rwanda’s government teamed with SoftBank Corp to deliver what the pair claimed is the first publicly announced 5G connection from a HAPS unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the stratosphere, boosting a goal of bridging Africa’s digital divide.

In a statement, the duo explained they successfully tested SoftBank’s proprietary 5G communications payload on 24 September 2023, delivering connectivity on a solar powered HAPS UAV prototype.

The feat follows a stratospheric flight test conducted in Rwanda in June, when the HAPS UAV prototype carried a mock-up of the payload with a similar weight and dimensions.

Providing details on the latest test, SoftBank’s payload apparently 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”.

Use cases during the test included a 5G-based video call conducted between a smartphone at a test site in Rwanda and SoftBank’s team in Japan.

It was able to use a regular smartphone, as the radio waves transmitted and received on the payload installed on the prototype in the stratosphere operated on the same frequencies as existing devices.

The development is arguably one of the biggest since SoftBank’s subsidiary HAPSMobile signed an MoU with Rwanda’s ICT ministry in July 2020 to explore the use of HAPS to deliver mobile connectivity.

SoftBank also signed an agreement with the country’s government in June to provide education technology services using non-terrestrial networks (NTN).

The operator and the government will now explore further use cases and commercial implementation across Africa.

“This test marks an important step forward in our aim of bridging the digital divide with HAPS and other NTN solutions,” said Junichi Miyakawa, president and CEO at SoftBank.