Save energy and extend network coverage

Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL) has developed an alternative to traditional, terrestrial cell sites as a means of achieving network coverage in rural locations. The solution (Stratomast HAP) consists of a fleet of hydrogen-powered High Altitude Platform (HAP)-mounted antennas designed to provide 4G and 5G coverage to locations across the UK.

Rural areas typically have poor mobile coverage because it is unprofitable to deploy and run under-used network cells. Traditional cells consume large amounts of energy, when they are only required to deliver relatively small data volumes to a few customers. This is not only resource inefficient, it is also a big Capex and Opex outlay. STL Partners estimates a cumulative energy saving of over 4.5 million MWh for 4G networks in the UK up to 2035 if operators were to adopt High Altitude Platform (HAP)-mounted antennas and decommission inefficient terrestrial sites for rural coverage. The chart shows three scenarios based on rate of decommissioning.

Over 4.5 million MWh of energy savings in the UK by 2035

Modelling scenarios

Source: STL Partners

Our modelling shows that by 2035, the use of HAP-mounted antennas could save over 4.5 million MWh of energy in an accelerated scenario as a result of energy savings from two key mechanisms:

  • Cell sites not built: these are terrestrial cell sites which would have been built by operators to fulfil coverage goals but will no longer be required thanks to Stratomast HAP-type solutions. We forecast over 4,600 cell site build-outs could be averted.
  • Cell sites decommissioned: these are terrestrial cell sites currently part of the network which could be decommissioned by operators when HAP solutions serve the area. These will either be sites which are more expensive to run than they are to decommission, or sites which need renewal and are cheaper to decommission than to re-invest. We modelled different scenarios based upon the rate of decommissioning, in the most conservative estimate we would expect over 4,100 cell sites to be decommissioned between the four UK operators by 2035, with over 8,300 decommissioned in the fastest scenario.

Additionally, this type of solution can also help to reduce the carbon emissions used to provide rural mobile services by 95%. Even in the most conservative estimate, over 2.7 MTCO2 could be cumulatively saved by 2035 (at the peak of the accelerated scenario in 2027, nearly 0.5 MTCO2 are saved annually). This will advance the telco journey to net zero.

For more detail on this, please see our report Stratospheric Platforms: A faster route to mobile net zero.

Related research can be found on our Sustainability Hub.