As millimeter wave spectrum–prior to powerful and cheap signal processing–could not be harnessed commercially for mobile and fixed mass market communications, so now technology might enable use of the stratosphere in new ways.
Earth’s stratosphere–at 11 km (seven miles) to 50 km (31 miles) high–”has long been deemed unsuitable for commercial (communications) operations because of its harsh conditions,” according to the High Altitude Platforms Alliance, which includes Alphabet’s Loon, Airbus Defence and Space, HAPSMobile, Intelsat US and Nokia.
Commercial airlines fly in the lower reaches of the stratosphere, between 30,000 feet and 42,000 feet. Loon’s communications balloons fly at about 20 km (65,000 feet) high.
The advantage, say members of the HAPS Alliance, is the ability to place “cell towers 20 km above Earth.” Loon, for example, makes it possible to use balloons at this altitude to deliver 4G LTE and 5G connectivity in partnership with mobile network operators, connecting directly to mobile phones and other devices using standard 4G and 5G protocols.”
“HAPS can act as floating cell towers, providing network latency that is comparable to that of terrestrial cell towers but with up to 200 times the geographic coverage from a single vehicle,” the HAPS Alliance argues.