Telecoms giant BT Group is trialling 5G and 4G mobile internet coverage provided by hydrogen-powered drones.
The drones, from Cambridge-based Stratospheric Platforms, carry a mobile internet antenna, have a wingspan of 60 metres and use a liquid hydrogen energy system that means they can fly for more than a week at a time.
Tim Whitley, managing director, research and network strategy, BT Group, said: “This highly innovative and transformative project has the potential to further enhance our UK 4G and 5G footprint, which is already the largest and most reliable in the UK, to connect unserved rural areas and enable exciting new use cases for private users.”
BT is exploring whether Stratospheric Platforms’ 5G drones could provide better mobile internet signals to remote areas, provide backup for the existing network, and help humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
“This partnership will build further on SPL’s world-first 5G demonstration from the stratosphere achieved in 2022. With BT, we’re pleased to continue our journey supporting the UK to become a science super-power,” said Richard Deakin, CEO, Stratospheric Platforms.
The partnership is BT’s latest move into drone technology. Earlier this month, BT invested £5m into drone software developer Altitude Angel through its incubation branch Etc.
It follows the UK government unveiling plans to create a drone “superhighway”, a 165-mile air corridor across Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby.
Innovate UK has provided funding for the initial testing of the internet drones, which will operate from BT’s R&D headquarters at Adastral Park.