High altitude platform stations (HAPS) are a recent development in digital connectivity. These objects, which may be balloons or self-piloted drones, will be flying at altitudes between 20 and 50 km, which is twice the cruising altitude of commercial flights and situated above meteorological disturbances such as storms. With their payload of telecommunications equipment, HAPS could in the near future provide Internet access in areas with no terrestrial service, either because of their remoteness or in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Their advantage over a satellite constellation is that they are less expensive and yet provide good coverage and acceptable bandwidth.
The most newsworthy of the HAPS-based projects for connecting populations with poor Internet access is probably the Google initiative. This is Project Loon, for which Google has entered into a partnership with CNES. It will be a network of helium-filled stratospheric balloons, the first of which were launched in June 2013 in New Zealand.
France is also contributing to research on these platforms through a French government investment plan, (Programme d’investissement d’avenir (PIA)/Investing in the Future) developed by the Commissariat général à l’investissement. €17 million have been earmarked for the Thales Alenia Space Stratobus project.
The HAPS concept is not new, but the progress made on drones now makes the project feasible at a reasonable cost. Following these recent developments, the international community of spectrum management agencies must review their respective positions within ITU on the spectrum required to implement these new services.
Concerning the HAPS concept itself, ANFR will consult French stakeholders developing such projects on whether the current international legal definition ("a station on an object at an altitude of 20 to 50 km and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth") still matches the technological and operational developments envisaged for these systems.
Regarding the frequencies needed for HAPS control and their movements in the airspace, ANFR will consider, in cooperation with the French General Directorate for Civil Aviation (DGAC), whether conclusions arrived at for drones are also applicable or if there is a need to draft specific measures for HAPS.
ANFR will consult French stakeholders regarding spectrum required for payloads onboard HAPS so as to determine whether the frequency bands that have already been identified — as well as the related technical and regulatory conditions — will be sufficient and adequate. If not, the Agency will consider the possibility of identifying the 38-39.5 GHz band for use by HAPS.