10 February 2023


Greater connectivity is vital to economic growth in the 21st Century. Half the world’s population is still without internet access. In the UK, the ability of companies and people to access high-bandwidth, constant telecom connectivity partly explains the economic disparity between regions. Access to superfast broadband and 5G will be critical to economic growth and greater productivity.

When 5G was first introduced, the industry called it a game-changer. For the first time, mobile phone users could get internet speeds only ever available with a broadband phone line. 5G is faster and allows more devices than ever to connect to the network. It offers more widespread coverage (no more dead zones) and has the potential to support advanced technologies such as IoT, autonomous vehicles, and virtual and augmented reality. These are some of the technologies that will help drive future economic growth.

The UK is expected to fully deploy the 5G network this year and maintain the same level of coverage to 2025. The network will cover 68 per cent of the UK population and 12 per cent of the geographical area in the UK 1 . Covering the whole UK is a challenge. 5G requires a mast every few kilometres. If the UK were to achieve total coverage of 5G, it would require tens of thousands of mast towers. That’s a lot of planning applications as well as cost!

The risk is that 5G becomes a technology just for metro areas like London, doubling down on the economic status quo rather than becoming a way of levelling up the UK. Businesses won’t consider relocating to areas outside London if they think they won’t have the same connectivity.

The UK Government says it wants to turn the UK into the tech capital of Europe. This plan, it hopes, will grow the economy, create high-skilled, well-paid jobs, and mean the UK is no longer as reliant on overseas technology. Connectivity will be vital to delivering this.

At Stratospheric Platforms, we have developed a way that 5G could be spread with far less infrastructure. Our plan involves using uncrewed aircraft in the stratosphere, which can provide full 5G at 200MB per sec per user across all climates, conditions, and terrains. As well as bringing 5G to the world’s remotest parts, we can connect everyone in the UK with 5G with just 24 aircraft.

Powered by a hydrogen fuel system, our aircraft can stay up for six days. Suppose there is an issue, no problem, then the aircraft formation can be adjusted, or a spare aircraft launched. It is also much more energy efficient, removing the need for energy-consuming towers and other infrastructure. Masts account for 1% per cent of UK energy consumption; One uncrewed aircraft replaces the need for 450 towers! Our solution doesn’t need to power the signal through buildings or other ground clutter, improving energy use by 75%.

Ah, I hear you say, what about satellites? Launching things into space is significantly more expensive and time-consuming, and even the most minor glitch can turn an expensive piece of kit into another orbiting tin can. Unlike a satellite platform like Starlink, our technology can directly connect to a mobile handset, with no special terminals needed, and will deliver higher speeds. As its closer to the user, the signal is stronger, and we have developed an antenna that transmits about five times as much data as a satellite over a much smaller area. Our technology can provide the same data rates as Starlink to 1000 times more customers in any given area.

We believe we could cover the entire UK in 5G for just £100m, which is a drop in the ocean compared to other major infrastructure projects. In a recent submission to Government, BT Group confirmed that if our system was available, it could save up to £4 billion in capital expenditure, much of which is in the form of government funding. Intelsat, the largest government satellite comms provider in the US, described us as “the most exciting technology since the advent of the fibre optic cable”.

The future is exciting. We have tested all the elements of our technology, and the next step is to go into production on a full prototype. We are raising £130 million from investors in a Series B funding round, having already secured £70 million in Series A funding from institutional investors, including Deutsche Telekom. We recently secured further investment from PT Profesional Telekomunikasi Indonesia (PROTELINDO), the largest telecommunication infrastructure company in Indonesia. We are already implementing commercial agreements with Governments and leading industry companies across various markets, including recently starting a trial with BT. There is considerable interest from Asia and the Middle East.

We have a clear plan that means we will deliver global certification of our technology by 2027.

As a project born out of Cambridge, we are keen to make Stratospheric Platforms a Great British innovation success story. Despite years of conversations with various parts of the UK Government, we have yet to have the kind of support being offered to us by foreign governments who can clearly see the value in this technology. We need help to deliver the required regulatory approval and provide a groundwork for investment to support our path to commercialisation. Every day we are invited to meetings across the globe from interested foreign governments, businesses and potential investors who are offering financial support and access to the kind of manufacturing capabilities and skilled workers we will need, pardon the pun, to get this project off the ground.

With the proper support at home, we can put the UK back on the aerospace manufacturing map with a new aircraft built entirely here. This means lots of well-paid, highly skilled tech jobs.

We have the technology and ambition, but the UK Government needs the vision. We want to be part of the UK’s plans to become a science superpower rather than up sticks and move abroad. I hope we make a breakthrough soon.

If you would like to learn more about the technology and our plans, we would love to hear from you.

1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/1246357/35ghz-5g-coverage-uk/#:~:text=The%20United%20Kingdom%20(UK)%20is,the%20geographical%20area%20in%20UK.

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