(BUSINESS WIRE) — The Government of Rwanda and SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434, President & CEO: Junichi Miyakawa, “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 the digitalization of schools and communities in rural communities without Internet connectivity.
Junichi Miyakawa, President & CEO of SoftBank Corp., said, “I am thrilled that our 5G payload performed in the stratosphere far beyond our expectations. This test marks an important step forward in our aim of bridging the digital divide with HAPS and other NTN solutions. We are grateful to the Government of Rwanda for their unwavering support and look forward to working with them to study use cases for commercial implementation.”
Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT and Innovation of the Republic of Rwanda, commented, “The successful 5G delivery stratospheric test we conducted is promising. It represents a significant step towards narrowing the digital divide and enhancing digital inclusion with innovative solutions. Furthermore, it underscores our dedication to establish Rwanda as a premier global destination for pioneering and visionary individuals from across the globe, where they can harness our supportive policies and regulatory flexibility to explore cutting-edge innovations that address development challenges. We extend our appreciation to SoftBank, our partner in this Joint Research Project, and look forward to furthering our partnership beyond the proof of concept phase.”
*1: At the time of announcement, there has been no prior public announcement of a successful HAPS-based 5G connectivity test using a UAV based in the stratosphere, which is defined by NASA as 14.5 km to 50 km above the earth’s surface.
*2: HAPSMobile Inc. was absorbed by SoftBank Corp. through an absorption-type merger on October 1, 2023. For more information, please refer to this SoftBank Corp. press release dated July 24, 2023: “Notice Concerning Absorption-type Merger of HAPSMobile Inc., a Wholly Owned Subsidiary (Simplified Merger and Short-form Merger)”
About SoftBank Corp.
Guided by the SoftBank Group’s corporate philosophy, “Information Revolution – Happiness for everyone,” SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) operates telecommunications and IT businesses in Japan and globally. In the fiscal year ended March 2023, SoftBank Corp. registered 5,912.0 billion yen of revenue, 1,060.2 billion yen of operating income and 531.4 billion yen of net income. Building on its strong business foundation and compelling number of customer touchpoints, SoftBank Corp. is expanding into non-telecom fields in line with its “Beyond Carrier” growth strategy while further growing its telecom business. Also, by fully harnessing the power of AI, 5G/6G, IoT, Digital Twin, Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) solutions, including High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS)-based stratospheric telecommunications, and other advanced technologies, SoftBank Corp. aims to be “a company that provides next-generation social infrastructure essential to the development of a digital society.” In recognition of its ESG initiatives, SoftBank Corp. was selected for inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index 2022, FTSE4Good, 2023 Constituent MSCI Japan ESG Select Leaders Index and Empowering Women Index, and other leading global ESG investments indices. To learn more, please visit https://www.softbank.jp/en/
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