Two UK companies have revealed plans to beam 5G signals to the community using drones that will remain airborne for nine days at a time.
They intend to use hydrogen-powered antenna-equipped aircraft to provide high-speed communication to large areas.
Stratospheric Platforms and Cambridge Experts claim they could protect the entire of the United Kingdom with about 60 drones.
Telecom experts, though, doubt whether the economic argument for this system is as straightforward as it sounds.
Cambridge-based firms state that they will operate the service in collaboration with existing mobile operators.
They are now funded by Deutsche Telekom, which plans to test technologies in rural southern Germany in 2024.
Cambridge Consultants designed an antenna for the Stratospheric Platforms aircraft designed to operate at an altitude of 20,000 m (65,617 ft).
They claim they have successfully tested a low-bandwidth signal from a plane flying at a lower altitude.
But so far, the drone needed is still on the drawing board and will have to be checked with an emission-free hydrogen fuel cell and a 5 G antenna on board.
Google is running a parallel initiative with its Loon Project to carry wireless internet to remote locations using solar-powered high-altitude balloons.
Yet the Chief Executive Officer of Stratospheric Platforms says the use of hydrogen fuel cells is a superior option.
“This is a very high-density energy supply that helps us to generate an immense amount of power over a long period of time,” Richard Deakin says.
He adds that any drone will cover an area of 140 km (87 miles) in the diameter below.
And users will get a download speed of around 100Mbps-allowing them to download a standard four-gigabyte video in less than six minutes.
“The construction of terrestrial masts is incredibly costly,” continues Mr. Deakin.
“With our system, at least 200 masts will be replaced by each aircraft.”
Yet market watchers claim that safety issues continue to be addressed.
“The skies are very highly controlled,” says John Delaney of the IDC research company.
“It will be difficult to create a network of continuously flying drones in the stratosphere within three or four years.”
Mr Deakin is a former Chief Executive Officer of Nats-the National Air Traffic Control Service of the United Kingdom-so well aware of what is involved.
And he notes that the initiative is now talking to air traffic control services across Europe.
By 2024, UK mobile operators were supposed to create a large part of their 5 G networks.
“It is unrealistic to expect the current infrastructure to be displaced by a drone network,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight.
But he admits that they could be useful in hard-to-reach areas, such as “over wide expanses of water, such as a shipping path.”
Mr Delaney agrees that the solution could be suitable for businesses looking to easily connect machines together, such as self-propelled trucks moving in and out of the mine.
“You might see a function for technologies like this that helps you to get coverage up and running very quickly in very remote areas,” he says.
Right now, financing could be the greatest obstacle.
Despite the participation of Deutsche Telekom, the two British companies need more capital if they are to provide stratospheric communication within four years.