Google pushes FCC to study high-altitude platform stations for broadband services

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) supports the idea of the FCC authorizing resources for the study of broadband delivered from high-altitude platform stations (HAPS), which are 20 to 50 kilometers above ground.

Google says it is developing unmanned aircraft that will circle for months at about 20 kilometers in the stratosphere to maintain coverage of a constant service area on the ground. Such nominally fixed aircraft, which could be considered HAPS, are one promising model for delivery of broadband, particularly to underserved communities, according to the search giant.

In a May 15 meeting with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's legal advisor Renee Gregory and special counsel Diane Cornell, Google's director of communications law, Austin Schlick, noted that Google and others in the U.S. have been investing in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), including for the delivery of broadband communications to underserved communities, and for disaster relief.

As the ITU has recognized, stations operating at an altitude of approximately 20 km are high enough to provide service to a large footprint but low enough to provide dense coverage at low latency. High-altitude stations, located in the stratosphere above weather incidents, are also resilient to storms below and therefore can be an effective tool during and after a natural disaster, according to Google.

While tests of unmanned aircraft at high altitudes for broadband Internet service are recent, high altitude base stations have been studied by the ITU for about two decades. HAPS are defined in Article 1.66A of the Radio Regulations "[a] station located on an object at an altitude of 20 to 50 km and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth," the filing states.

With demand for broadband continuing to grow, the identifications for HAPS, now limited, may need to be expanded, geographically and spectrally, in order to allow lightweight, nominally fixed-position UAS to deliver broadband at current generation speeds, according to Google.

Google says a HAPS study would continue U.S. leadership in the nascent UAS industry and in broadband technology innovation in general.

Google's Project Loon is designed to deliver Internet to remote parts of the globe using balloons released into the stratosphere. While it sounded crazy at first, Project Loon engineers say they've learned a lot since those early days and they're getting close to the point where they can roll out thousands of balloons using automated systems.

For more:
- see this Google filing

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