SoftBank Corp.’s HAPSMobile and Alphabet’s Loon have formed a long-term strategic relationship to advance the use of high altitude vehicles, such as balloons and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to bring connectivity to more people, places, and things worldwide.
As part of the new relationship and HAPSMobile’s financial and investment strategy, HAPSMobile has made a decision to invest $125 million USD in Loon. Loon has obtained the right to invest the same amount in HAPSMobile in the future.
Furthermore, to strengthen the relationship, the companies are actively exploring commercial collaborations to accelerate the deployment of high altitude network connectivity solutions, with a focus on expanding mobile internet penetration, enabling internet of things (IoT) applications, and assisting in the deployment of 5G.
Specifically, the companies have entered into formal negotiations on a number of areas of potential technical and commercial collaboration, including:
A wholesale business that would allow HAPSMobile to utilize Loon’s fully-functioning vehicle and technology. Likewise, Loon would be able to utilize HAPSMobile’s aircraft, which is currently in development, upon its completion.
A jointly developed communications payload that is adaptable to multiple flight vehicles and various ITU compliant frequency bands.
A common gateway or ground station that could be deployed globally and utilized by both Loon and HAPSMobile to provide connectivity over their respective platforms.
Adapting and optimizing Loon’s fleet management system and temporospatial SDN for use by HAPSMobile.
Creating an alliance to promote the use of high altitude communications solution with regulators and officials worldwide.
Enabling flight vehicles from each party to connect and share the same network connectivity in the air.
With the deployment of such technology, people will be reachable in areas where connectivity is lacking; such as mountainous terrain, remote islands, and developing countries.
Each company brings important and complementary strengths to the table. HAPSMobile, SoftBank’s subsidiary, is a joint venture with AeroVironment, Inc. HAPSMobile has completed its development of HAWK 30, its aircraft-type stratospheric telecommunications platform. SoftBank is one of Japan’s telecommunication carriers and has significant experience in network planning, operations, and bringing connectivity solutions to the market.
Loon brings technical leadership through an existing, fully-functioning high altitude vehicle and communications system that has already flown over 30 million kilometers and connected hundreds of thousands of users worldwide. In addition, Loon has nearly a decade of experience developing, launching, flying, and managing a high altitude platform.
High altitude network connectivity platforms operate in the stratosphere, which is above ground infrastructure, but below satellites, allowing fornear ubiquitous coverage that avoids ground clutter and significant latency issues. These advantages make such vehicles a promising solution for expanding mobile coverage to those who need it as well as IoT and 5G use-cases. HAPSMobile and Loon, cooperating with strengths and technology from each party, seek to provide next generation global connectivity and revolutionize the world’s mobile networks.
Junichi Miyakawa, Representative Director & CTO of SoftBank Corp., also President & CEO of HAPSMobile Inc. said, “Building a telecommunications network in the stratosphere, which has not been utilized by humankind so far, is uncharted territory and a major challenge for SoftBank. Working with Alphabet’s subsidiary Loon, I’m confident we can accelerate the path toward the realization of utilizing the stratosphere for global networks by pooling our technologies, insights and experience. Even in this current era of coming 5G services, we cannot ignore the reality that roughly half of the world’s population is without Internet access. Through HAPS, we aim to eliminate the digital divide and provide people around the world with the innovative network services that they need.”
Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said, “We see joining forces as an opportunity to develop an entire industry, one which holds the promise to bring connectivity to parts of the world no one thought possible. This is the beginning of a long-term relationship based on a shared vision for expanding connectivity to those who need it. We look forward to what the future holds.”
Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at X said, “From the very beginning, Loon’s mission has been to connect the unconnected. While at X the team made incredible technical progress. We’re delighted to now be cheering them on as they collaborate with SoftBank’s HAPSMobile to bring the benefits of connectivity to more people around the world.”