WRC-19 identifies additional frequency bands for High Altitude Platform Station systems

ITU Member States agreed at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) to identify additional radio-frequency bands for High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) systems.

These easily deployable stations operating in the stratosphere (layer of the Earth’s atmosphere starting at 20 kilometres) are high enough to provide service to a large area or to augment the capacity of other broadband service providers. Technological innovations in recent years — and the growing urgency to expand the availability of broadband – led to the development of HAPS systems.

The agreements reached at WRC-19 help pave the way to connect more of the world’s people to the benefits of today’s digital economy, particularly in underserved communities and in rural and remote areas.

A new Resolution passed at WRC-19 also mentioned that “current technologies, such as HAPS, can be used to deliver broadband applications for broadband connectivity and disaster-recovery communications with minimal ground network infrastructure.”

HAPS systems can be used to provide both fixed broadband connectivity for end users and transmission links between the mobile and core networks for backhauling traffic. Both types of HAPS applications would enable wireless broadband deployment in remote areas, including in mountainous, coastal and desert areas.

By approving the spectrum for HAPS, the ITU Membership has enabled one more communication platform to connect the unconnected.

The new Resolution also highlights that HAPS can provide broadband connectivity with minimal ground network infrastructure. This can potentially enable lower-cost connectivity and faster deployment.

HAPS is not a new concept and ITU studies of HAPS began around 1996. Nevertheless, HAPS have become more viable due to the evolution of technology through advances in solar panel efficiency, battery energy density, lightweight composite materials, autonomous avionics and antennas.

Some industries are currently testing the delivery of broadband access via HAPS using lightweight, solar-powered aircraft and airships at an altitude of 20-25 kilometres operating continually for several months.

Delegates at WRC-19 agreed that allocations to the fixed service in the frequency bands 31-31.3 GHz, 38-39.5 GHz will be identified for worldwide use by HAPS. They also confirmed the existing worldwide identifications for HAPS in the bands 47.2 – 47.5 GHz and 47.9 – 48.2 GHz are available for worldwide use by administrations wishing to implement high-altitude platform stations.

They agreed to the use of the frequency bands 21.4-22 GHz and  24.25-27.5 GHz by HAPS in the fixed service in Region 2.

They also agreed to limitations regarding link directions, and inclusion of technical conditions of operation of HAPS systems for the protection of other services.

These global and regionally harmonized designations for HAPS will facilitate the development of HAPS services and allow trials to move towards commercial deployments. By approving the spectrum for HAPS, the ITU Membership has enabled one more communication platform to connect the unconnected.