NTT DOCOMO, Space Compass partner on HAPS

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Zephyr High Altitude
Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station. (PHOTO: Airbus)

Aviation Festival AFA 728 x 90A consortium of Japanese businesses led by NTT DOCOMO and Space Compass together with Mizuho Bank and the Development Bank of Japan has committed to invest US$100 million in AALTO HAPS, which manufactures and operates the stratospheric, solar-powered Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS). The investment will be made through the Japanese Consortium’s investment vehicle, HAPS JAPAN Corporation.

This investment marks the beginning of a strategic alliance to commercialise connectivity and earth observation services using HAPS in Japan and across Asia. It will also support the industrial and commercial roadmap for AALTO’s services, targeting launch in Japan and a global entry-into-service in 2026.

Members of the HAPS JAPAN Consortium, AALTO and Airbus signed the Tokyo Stratospheric Declaration on 29 May 2024. Pictured (from left-right): Akihiro Hikuma (NTT DOCOMO), Shigehiro Hori (Space Compass), Samer Halawi (AALTO) and Jean-Brice Dumont (Airbus Defence and Space).

Flying for months at a time in the stratosphere, Zephyr offers game-changing capabilities that will be transformative for mobile connectivity and earth observation. As a payload agnostic platform, Zephyr can transform into a multi-functional tower in the sky to provide low latency 5G direct-to-device mobile connectivity services. Leveraging Airbus’s earth observation service, Strat-Observer, Zephyr can also be used to fulfil a range of monitoring, tracking, sensing and detection applications. AALTO is therefore well-positioned for a variety of use cases, such as expanding mobile network operator (MNO) coverage and providing high-capacity connectivity including during Japan’s response to natural disasters.

This investment deepens the long-standing collaboration between AALTO, NTT DOCOMO and Space Compass, a joint venture between NTT and SKY Perfect JSAT focusing on establishing a Space Integrated Computing Network. The roadmap to commercialiseHAPS began with an agreement to explore collaboration with AALTO signed in 2022. Alongside this investment, AALTO and Space Compass will also sign commercial agreements that will deepen their engagement in Japan and Asia over the coming years. Airbus Defence and Space will remain AALTO’s majority shareholder. The investment is subject to closing conditions and regulatory approvals.

Takaaki Sato, Chief Technology Officer of NTT DOCOMO, said:NTT DOCOMO continues to improve network quality and has been focused on establishing new technology frontiers that enhance access to connectivity services. Working with our partners Space Compass, AALTO and Airbus, we are excited by the potential of HAPS-based NTN solutions. This technology brings together unique cutting-edge engineering with economics that are aligned to expand coverage to rural and remote areas, and support our collective response to natural disasters. Alongside our partners in the Consortium, we look forward to working strategically with AALTO to utilise Zephyr to transform customer experiences.”

Shigehiro Hori, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Space Compass Corporation, commented: “Non-terrestrial networks have the potential to transform Japan’s communications ecosystem, addressing access to connectivity in hard-to-reach areas while supporting our country’s response to emergencies. Japan has many remote islands and mountainous areas, where there are uneconomic connectivity solutions. Our strategic relationship with AALTO, underpinned by technological innovation and the opportunity of the connectivity market, will help us build a new telecommunications infrastructure in these areas and during an era of population decline.”

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