Providing the Backbone for High Altitude Networks

Laser communication enables connectivity provisioning in areas where terrestrial solutions are too expensive or logistically impossible


High altitude networks may be used whenever telecommunication infrastructure on the ground is to expensive or logistically impossible. Typically, a number of high altitude platforms provide conventional radio frequency signal from a high altitude between 15 and 30km to a number of end users on the ground. The high altitude platforms such as balloons or UAVs are interconnected with high-speed laser communication links and linked to the existing terrestrial network through high-speed air-to-ground connections. The resulting local airborne networks can provide connectivity for locations as small as football stadiums to areas as big as entire countries depending on the number and spread of the airborne platforms.


Case Study

Laser communication is an enabler for high altitude networks that provide high-speed connectivity to areas that are inaccessible to conventional technologies such as optical fibers. This can be understood by considering a typical scenario of a moderately sized high altitude network. An area of approximately 100x100km may exemplarily require five high altitude platforms (HAPs) such as airships, UAVs or piloted vehicles to provide high-speed connectivity for the entire area. The HAPs would typically fly in an altitude of 20km above regular air traffic and weather phenomena such as clouds, rain, fog and so on. At this altitude the aircraft are also practically invisible for the bare eye and not to hear from the ground.

Assuming that the network is used to provide high-speed network connectivity for a disaster relief scenario one can assume to require an average of one high-speed access point every two kilometers within the area thus a total of 2500 access points. Each access point is connected to the airborne network through a low cost radio frequency link and may distribute the available data rate in its direct proximity through technologies such as WiFi or cellular 3G/4G technology.

All 2500 access points in the 100x100km area can be provided with a data rate of 20 Mbps each – and 4Mbps during peak load – by having a backbone data rate of 10 Gbps for the airborne network between the aircraft above the clouds. Laser communication is the only technology that achieves this data rate under the demanding size, weight and power consumption (SWaP) constraints of the integral high altitude platforms. It is therefore perfectly suited to establish the backbone point-to-point connection between the HAPs of the airborne network. A single laser link at the edge of the network may be utilized to connect the entire airborne network with all its accumulated traffic to the terrestrial network infrastructure.

Laser communication is a key technology for providing connectivity through high altitude networks where teresstrial solutions such as optical fibers are too expensive or logistically impossible. Benefits of laser communication include:

  • High data rates up to 10 Gbps allowing backbone-class networks in high altitude.
  • Ultra low size, weight and power consumption (SWaP) suitable for high altitude platforms.
  • No regulation of laser communication, available spectrum can be fully used to connect end users.

Relevant Products

Product Picture of MLT-70 Laser Communication Terminal Air-to-Air Terminals

  • 10 Gbps data rate
  • Ultra low size, weight and power consumption (SWaP)
  • Designed for stratospheric applications

Product Picture of MLT-20 Laser Communication Terminal Air-to-Ground Terminals

  • Connection to the terrestrial network infrastructure
  • High field of regard

Product Picture of GS200 Optical Ground Station Optical Ground Stations

  • Small size and easy installation
  • Mobile or fixed use
  • Environmentally protected against rain, winds, etc.

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Distance to ground station
Distance between platforms
Distance to ground or other terminal
Distance between ground stations
Distance between terminals (km)

Required Bandwidth
1 Gbps10 Gbps>10 Gbps

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