SoftBank JV to invest $125m in Project Loon

26 Apr 2019

Japan's SoftBank has announced that its joint venture HAPSMobile will invest $125 million in Google's Project Loon to advance the use of high-altitude vehicles to carry mobile base stations.

HAPSMobile, the joint venture between SoftBank and US-based unmanned aerial vehicle systems company AeroVironment, was established in 2017 to conduct network equipment research and development for the high-altitude platform station (HAPS) business.

Under the agreement with Google, Loon has been given the right to invest the same sum in HAPSMobile at a later date.

The two companies have also agreed to actively explore commercial collaborations to accelerate the development of high altitude network connectivity solutions, such as the network of stratospheric balloons that Loon is trialling to deliver internet access to unserved areas of the world.

Potential areas of collaboration being negotiated include enabling flight vehicles from each party to connect and share the same network connectivity in the air, as well as the establishment of a wholesale business that would allow HAPSMobile to utilize Loon's vehicle and technology, and allow Loon to utilize HAPSMobile's in-development unmanned aircraft.

Other possibilities include a jointly developed communications payload that is adaptable to multiple flight vehicles, a common gateway or ground station that could be deployed globally and used by both companies to provide connectivity over their platforms, and adapting Loon’s fleet management system and temporospatial SDN for use by HAPSMobile.

“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,” SoftBank CTO Junichi Miyakawa said.

“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.”

“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,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth added.

“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.”

Pictured: A Project Loon high-altitude balloon. Credit: iLighter / Flickr

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