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Will High Altitude Platforms Become an Integral Part of 6G?



High Altitude Platforms

The sixth generation of the in the evolution of wireless evolution promises to be disruptive in terms of the extreme solutions envisioned to meet the projected targets in terms of data rates, latencies, coverage, use cases, etc.

The drive to ubiquitous connectivity and ever-increasing capacity requirements have pushed designers to foresee a vertical expansion of the network into what is known as the Space Radio Access Network (RAN). Non-terrestrial networks are expected to be a key enabler of 6G systems, given the difficulty for terrestrial ones to guarantee coverage (such as rural areas) and capacity requirements at all times. The Earth topology provides significant restrictions in terms of the installation of transmission stations and the implementation of backhauling solutions for existing terrestrial networks. Natural and man-made disasters are yet another reason to provide a backup plan to solve the resulting disconnection of millions of persons from the communications grid. A core component in this vertical three-dimensional hierarchy is related to high altitude platforms (HAPs). So, what makes HAPs such an attractive option for 6G networks? And what are the challenges that are delaying such deployments?

What are Non-Terrestrial Networks and High-Altitude Platforms?

Using satellite communications is not something new as it has been widely used for worldwide telephony systems, weather monitoring, geographical information systems, and strategic communications in general. This relatively old technology has recently come back into the limelight with the endeavors of Elon Musk in SpaceX and Starlink.

New technology has emerged to extend the satellite ecosystem into terrestrial networks. HAPs and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) came to the fore as intermediate layers to complete the hierarchical Space RAN network that connects to the terrestrial one, thus providing coverage that far exceeds the Earth range and unlocking yet-to-be-seen network design and customization opportunities. Imagine a subscriber being able to maintain a connection, whether it is on the ground, in an airplane, or even on a boat trip, without the slightest disruption or drop in performance. This is a potential byproduct of the new network model and the seamless connection handover between the different layers.

Satellites constitute the farthest point of the forthcoming network orbiting at distances ranging from several hundreds of kilometers with Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to around 36000 kilometers with Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites. On the other side of the Space, RAN spectrum are UAVs which are aircrafts flying at several hundred meters. UAVs are extremely popular as they are relatively easy to deploy and manage while providing a temporary extension of the wireless network.

The middle layer is governed by high-altitude platforms. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) defines HAPs as “radio stations located on an object at an altitude of 20-50 kilometers and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth”. There are various types of these platforms that float in the stratosphere, such as balloons or aircrafts powered by renewable energy sources. HAPs also provide the best trade-off between the high coverage of satellites and the relative low latency of UAVs.

What are Some Promising Use Cases in HAPs?

The inherent properties of high-altitude platforms in terms of coverage, latency and cost have paved the way for several use cases that would justify the significant investments in that area. The HAPSs Alliance, which is the main consortium of companies working on developing HAPs solutions include the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, T-Mobile, NTT Docomo, and Airbus. A recent article by the GSMA highlights the main use cases as follows:

  • Coverage extension: HAPs provide an excellent and viable alternative to provide greenfield coverage, that is, for areas with no cellular connectivity, and white spot reduction, which involves dealing with coverage holes. The altitude at which HAPs operate provides a possible line of sight connection regardless of the terrain below.
  • Emergency response solutions: The fragility of terrestrial infrastructure to disasters makes HAPs an excellent means for sustaining communication services for a period of time. This was notably the case after the Hurricane that hit Puerto Rico in 2017. In that case, Google’s “Project Loon” balloons were trialed to restore connectivity in the area.
  • Capacity enhancement: HAPs can be employed to boost the capacity of the terrestrial network for temporary events such as festivals.
  • Large scale IoT: HAPs can be employed when a widescale internet of things network is required as they resolve the coverage constraint hindering such deployments.
  • Fixed wireless access: Telco operators around the world have been implementing fixed wireless access solutions based on the current 5G technology. HAPs could provide an alternative to the terrestrial solutions, especially if a higher frequency of operation is used (that is, with higher bandwidth).
  • Backhauling solutions: Perhaps the best use case of HAPs and non-terrestrial networks, in general, is the flexibility it offers in connecting isolated terrestrial networks through efficient backhauling solutions.
Why aren’t HAPs Commercially Ready Yet?

The discontinuation of Project Loon, which was at the forefront of HAP development, highlights the sad reality of a promising project. The discontinuation of the Facebook Aquila solar-powered plane is another event that raises additional questions regarding the HAPs concept as a whole. HAPs are undoubtedly promising solutions for future networks, but the cost and complexity of optimizing the operational process are too much to result in a commercially viable solution. Investments are there indeed, but risks and challenges are far bigger. The work done on Project Loon will feed into other projects with the numerous patents and breakthroughs achieved. Project Taara holds all the hopes of finishing the work started by Google in Project Loon.

The deployment of such solutions also has other challenges inherent to traditional communication systems, including spectrum allocation, regulatory affairs, and integration with operators’ networks. Other challenges relate to the technology itself, mainly in terms of energy generation, heat management, operability, and reliability.


The path to the 6G evolution is certainly marked by bold changes in the design of the network architecture. Non-terrestrial networks in general and high-altitude platforms, in particular, constitute the most promising candidates in the projected revamp. The use cases they unlock are just too tempting to be overlooked. This said we are still far from seeing a sustainable HAPs-based solution in action. However, with the investments pouring in, the technology is getting more and more mature, but will it be ready in time when 6G is actually deployed?

“Inside Telecom provides you with an extensive list of content covering all aspects of the tech industry. Keep an eye on our Telecoms and  5G space to stay informed and up-to-date with our daily articles.”

PhD holder with over 10 years of experience in wireless communication systems, e-health informatics, and computer networks and a passion to investigate and educate people recent topics in artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and biomimetics.


What is Holographic Communication? How is it Making the Metaverse a Reality?



Is holographic communication possible? It is certainly coming closer to reality. What has been pictured in movies will soon be enabled by advances in technology, in particular computing, processing and communication. Ericsson, of the main companies working on this technology defines holographic communication as “real-time capturing, encoding, transporting and rendering of 3D representations, anchored in space, of remote persons shown as stereoscopic images or as 3D video in extended reality (XR) headsets that deliver a visual effect similar to a hologram.”

The work on holographic representation and interaction has been widely in development in the last decade. Several mixed reality devices have been commercialized, notably with the Microsoft Hololens initially launched in 2016, the Oculus Quest, and the HP Reverb. To enable communication however, an advanced wireless networks are needed to complete the missing piece of the puzzle and provide the sought-after real time experience. Normally, although the current 5G standard still have some problems to iron out, it is undoubtedly a key enabler for holographic communication. Soon, you will be able to interact with a 3D hologram of your friend, as if he is close to you, interesting?

Towards 5G Holograms?

Holographic representation has been a very efficient marketing tool used by several operators to promote and demonstrate the advantages of 5G technology, and notably increase its market share. Three UK, the British operator created a large ad at a live event in London in 2019 while Bharti Airtel, the leading operator in India recently showcased the properties of 5G running cricket match experience from the 1983 cricket world cup. This comes at a time where India is preparing to launch 5G services later this year in the country.

The enabling of holographic communication does not come only from the inherent properties of 5G systems, but rather from the ecosystem created around it. Through its streamlined architecture, increased virtualization, higher frequency of operation, and many other novelties, 5G should in principle allow notable improvements over 4G networks in terms of data rates and latencies. Network slicing should further improve the allocation of resources and therefore meet the quality guarantees of different applications. Beside the 5G-specific properties, the proliferation of edge computing solutions should increase the real-time processing capabilities and bring the data very close to the 5G core. The faithfulness of the representation of the hologram depends on many factors, including the timely processing of the input from multiple sensors and the proper transmission of the data through a reliable connection.

The Promise of 6G Holograms?

Holographic communication has been placed among the top use cases expected to come with the sixth generation of wireless communications along the internet of senses and digital twins. This does not come as a coincidence as the maturity of the current 5G systems is expected to come in time with 6G as has been the evolutionary trend in mobile communications with continuous technical releases ensuring uninterrupted evolution of the sector. 6G networks are projected to have gigahertz of bandwidth thanks to the operation in the terahertz bands, a more refined softwarized architecture akin to the current 5G network, high reliance on artificial intelligence, and a seamless integration of the communication network with our daily life providing an augmented digital experience. In the context of holographic communication, the convergence between computing, communications, and processing will streamline the performance of the technology improving the quality of experience perceived by the different users. As any optimization endeavor, the joint control over all the variables involved in generating, transmitted and recreating holographic information will make the experience more natural in the recipient’s eyes.

Needless to say, the Metaverse has invaded the technological world in the last few years without really knowing who owns the Metaverse, its rippling effects have been disrupting different areas, wrestling to basically capture a part of an eventual jackpot.  Non-fungible tokens (NFT) have been commodities being exchanged widely in the market. Another consequence of the Metaverse is the accelerated adoption of a virtual digital life.  Holographic communication becomes a necessity to provide the required immersive experience and replace our current interaction with small devices. Meta, which is somehow erroneously associated with the Metaverse, has filed recently for a patent, detailing its apparatus of a 3D voice call. The system, in case it is implemented, would allow people to view each other’s physical interactions during the call, instead of static 2D ones in today’s video calls. Other technology companies are certainly working on similar or different innovative applications to integrate the 3D world created by the Metaverse.

A lot of expected technologies, which are not yet commercially ready, will possibly have a large impact on holographic communications. Quantum computing has been a recurring topic due to its radical effects on technology as a whole. The significantly increased computational power, will further improve the perceived holographic experience.


Whether we are digitally aware or averse, holographic communications is a reality we won’t be escaping in the near future. The trend in the mobile evolution towards its sixth generation, and the sudden, yet staggering adoption of the Metaverse and its uses cases, is taking us into an immersive digital reality. Holographic communication is here to disrupt first, then become a norm in the communication world. The technical ingredients are all maturing well enough to make it one of the standouts use cases in 6G.

“Inside Telecom provides you with an extensive list of content covering all aspects of the tech industry. Keep an eye on our Telecoms 5G, and 6G news space to stay informed and up-to-date with our daily articles.”

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What is the Internet of Senses? How is it Shaping a Viable Digital Reality?



The world has been living under the charm of 5G for about three years now. Operators have been deploying and upgrading their networks, experimenting with different configurations, and bands to extract the maximum performance of the network. Concurrently, businesses have been trying the exploit the tiniest feature of the standard to generate new revenue streams.

Behind the curtains, work is well under way to shape up the next generation of wireless communications, 6G. While 5G provided the grounds for massive internet of things (IoT) deployments, 6G promises an immersive user experience, relying on advances in the extended reality, innovative technologies, and untapped bandwidth in the Terahertz spectrum. The maturity of technology will allow applications which we only characterize now as pure science fiction: digital twins, holographic communications and teleportation, and probably immersive metaverse applications.

The next iteration of the internet of things is already being developed as well. The trend is going from IoT to the internet of everything, all the way to exploring new avenues in terms of making the digital world as realistic as possible through the Internet of Senses (IoS).

Faking Your Senses?

The Internet of Senses has been a topic promoted by Ericsson for some time now as part of their vision for the telecom sector in 2030, which is the expected release date for the 6G standard. The idea behind it is not new as neuromodulation has been used extensively for various applications. Neuromodulation involves the intended alteration of a nerve activity through an electrical or chemical stimulus, as defined by the international neuromodulation society. Digital tasting applications and electronic noses have been developed to emulate typical physical tasting and smelling behavior.

IoS takes these concepts a notch further into a full ecosystem that includes taste, touch, smell, sight, sound, and mind as illustrated by Ericsson. The understanding of the sensory system from a neuroscientific perspective and the advances in electronics and microprocessor design to induce sensations that we are either missing or would like to have at some point. The different usages are the concretization of research ideas, that up to now, were only limited to concepts or theoretical ideas.

Mind Reading?

Brain computer interface is currently a technology that allows brain commands to be interpreted into specific actions. This technology is envisioned to encompass advanced prediction capabilities that will potentially allow an automated interpretation of what we are thinking and completing the task even before we issue a proper command for that. Other applications of “mind reading” including providing tailored content that reflect one’s needs or current status.

Digital Tasting and Aromas

The combination of digital tasting and aromas is another important use case for the IoS. The application virtually replicates a physical reality for which one is longing for. Imagine having a certain dish or drink in your mind. All you need is a stimulating device that would work on modulating a specific set of nerves that will provide you with the proper requested experience.

Improved Haptic Feedback

Touch is the last of the senses that will be triggered by the latest standard, Haptic feedbacks and other less known gimmicks are currently being used to provide immersive gaming experience to players around. The somatosensory receptors associated with touch are much more sensitive to distinct types of inputs. Future feedback system will have a higher degree of resolution providing a more elaborate response that will convey in a better way the perceived/intended senses.

Towards a Viable Metaverse?

The integration of the IoS with digital environments such as the Metaverse will make the virtual reality closer to the physical. In a sense, the Metaverse will move from being a product, to a place and finally to viable digital living space. Probably, your investment in a fancy Villa or some expensive piece of art will be worthy at some point in time.

Will Internet of Senses Become a Reality?

The answer is yes probably but only if. The realization an augmented somatosensory reality depends on many factors. Technological maturity is key step to the realization of the project. The IoS necessitates a significant evolution in computing platforms including extend reality systems, brain computer interfaces, processing units, among others. Artificial intelligence algorithms should scale to process and discriminate between increasingly complex datasets. The success of the approach is directly related to how much the developed system can mimic what is really happening in the nervous system. Tricking the body to accept digitally created senses will only work if the senses are the same to the actual ones. For instance, current digital tasting systems fail to recreate all kinds of taste notably, Umami.

As the use case is promoted to accompany the advent of 6G wireless systems, the transmission capabilities in terms of higher data rates, lower latencies, and dense edge computing availability will make IoS viable, from a telecom perspective at least.

The dangers come from the IoS solutions turning into a real social engineering experiment where the user is fooled by the system to provide sensitive data and information. As IoS relies heavily on sensitive biosignals, guaranteeing the security of the collected data is particularly important in the context of convincing users to adopt IoS solutions. Ethical AI and medical technology are therefore two topics that require a particular scrutiny.


The advent of 6G systems promises to bring a plethora of use cases that focus on providing users with an immersive experience. Among others, the Internet of Senses promises an augmented digital experience that will provide users with different perceivable senses that will get them closer to their normal physical life. Forseeable technological advancements  provide the necessary ingredients for the project to be successful. However, several issues, notably security and data integrity, may prevent the widescale adoption of such systems.

“Inside Telecom provides you with an extensive list of content covering all aspects of the tech industry. Keep an eye on our Telecoms 5G, and 6G news space to stay informed and up-to-date with our daily articles.”

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