The Government of Rwanda and SoftBank Corp have confirmed the successful testing of 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 was conducted on 24th September 2023 for HAPS research purposes in Rwandan airspace by SoftBank and the Government of Rwanda. The test marked the world's first publicly announced delivery of 5G connectivity from a HAPS UAV in the stratosphere, and follows on from a stratospheric flight test conducted in Rwanda in June 2023, during which the HAPS UAV prototype carried a mock-up of the payload with a similar weight and dimensions.
SoftBank's 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 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.
In July 2020, SoftBank's subsidiary HAPSMobile signed a Memorandum of Understanding with 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 digitalisation of schools and communities in rural regions without Internet connectivity.
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.”