back to article Please, tell us more about how just 60 hydrogen-powered 5G drones could make 400,000 UK base stations redundant

A company working with a hydrogen-powered 5G drone maker claims to have built an airborne 5G base station antenna "unlike anything ever seen before" – and that just 60 of them could replace Britain's terrestrial 5G networks. Cambridge Consultants (CC) made its eyebrow-raising announcement a week after The Register reported on …

  1. Bronek Kozicki

    100Gbps for the whole of London?

    Given there are some 10mln people in this area, even if only 1% were to use it that's 1Mbps per person; or in other words, a truly awful contention ratio.

    Thank you, not interested.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: 100Gbps for the whole of London?

      You're still off by 3 zeros in your dismay, it'd be only 1Kbps per person (on your own low estimate of 1% simultaneous use)

      Welcome back to the 80's acoustic decoupler modems kind of internet speed :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 100Gbps for the whole of London?

        Nope...

        100,000 M / 0.1 M = 1M

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: 100Gbps for the whole of London?

      Daytime population in London pre-pandemic was more like 26 million.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windy

    Given the wind speeds in the stratosphere can be 100mph+, assume this is going to be tethered to the ground with the odd Solar panel powered fans and GPS to keep it in place?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      Re: Windy

      Given the wind speeds in the stratosphere can be 100mph+, assume this is going to be tethered to the ground with the odd Solar panel powered fans and GPS to keep it in place?

      Tethered drones were trialled over London in the early 1940s. It wasn't very successful. The main problem was that the cables greatly inconvenienced air traffic. Consequently these "barrage balloons", as they were amusingly called, were all gone by the middle of 1945. The mobile phone coverage they provided wasn't much good either.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Windy

        As I understand the air traffic just had to fly a bit higher. It did however greatly interfere with the Luftwaffe's early trials of low level aerial package delivery.

  3. IGotOut Silver badge

    One word

    Rain

    1. gerryg

      Re: One word

      Two words: Led Zeppelin

      it's from aeronautics class R101

      1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

        Led Zeppelin

        Not quite sure I would call it a Stairway to Heaven though.

        1. gerryg

          Re: Led Zeppelin

          More like a Hindenburg Concerto?

          1. J4

            Re: Led Zeppelin

            H2 powered drones though, so maybe this complex network design is the starting point for the Hydrogen Sonata ?

        2. Captain Hogwash

          Re: Led Zeppelin

          No, but likely to result in a Communication Breakdown.

          1. Khaptain Silver badge

            Re: Led Zeppelin

            And if ever the drones fell from the sky we are then likely to feel a little Dazed and Confused....

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Led Zeppelin

              This radio all seems Gaga to me.

              1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
                Coat

                Re: Led Zeppelin

                They'd all have to wear Kashmir ----->

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Could is another way of saying...

    There is a remote possibility that this could work if only some fairy godmither would pay us a heap of money to make it work (or not)

    As far as I'm concerned, drones are not the answer to anything. Now what is the question again?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Could is another way of saying...

      If only we can merge Blockchain into this somehow...

      1. cd
        Coat

        Re: Could is another way of saying...

        And cloud storage...

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Could is another way of saying...

          There are clouds in the stratosphere I think.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Could is another way of saying...

            I think the clouds they are walking on are wearing thin ...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Could is another way of saying...

          And car analogies!

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: Could is another way of saying...

            I'm disappointed in the lack of AI. Shirley there should be more mention of this magical technology?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    an area of up to 140 kilometres

    Venture to guess the KEY WORD in the above claim? ;)

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: an area of up to 140 kilometres

      I'd say "square" is the key word here. Unfortunately, it isn't. Here, that is.

  6. DJV Silver badge
    Alert

    Now I'm confused...

    My initial scepticism is tempered by the fact that a Gartner consultant also thinks the idea is complete pants. And we all know how their predictions tend to turn out...

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Now I'm confused...

      Don't worry, No. 10 Downing St will readily cough up a few hundred million or more

      1. Frederic Bloggs

        Re: Now I'm confused...

        Clearly, you are a new reader or didn't follow the link. Bill Ray is ex-vulture and has quite a bit of hands on experience of connecting remote places to t'internet. As well as being a thoroughly decent chap. But anyone with some actual experience of radio will be asking pointed questions. Such as:

        a) There are 10 (or 12) million people inside the M25 ring. What aggregated bandwidth does said population currently use (and do they consider it to be "adequate" anyway)?

        b) How many flying thingies would it take to service just London's population. Now add every other conurbation in the UK before hand waving a lot about the "rural" internet? You may find this article on Erlangs useful to answer this question.

        c) How much spectrum would it take to up and downlink it all?

        d) Indeed would there be any spectrum left for anybody else?

        Even dear old Elon has figured out that he's going to need to fill the sky with 60,000 bits of junk satellites just to service some of the internet not->slow spots in the US, never mind the rest of the world. I know he thinks that's enough for "the world", but nobody else does.

        After all Elon isn't the first person to try this, Iridium started all this off in the 1990s and have gone bankrupt IIRC twice since. Iridium gives you a whole 25 kilo "baud" (probably bits), at least whilst a satellite is in view. BTW, Iridium had problems with their satellites being "too bright" as well.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Now I'm confused...

          "before hand waving a lot about the "rural" internet?"

          There is a pattern where people claim "we can do cheap rural internet. It starts with the big claims, then it turns to "we must do big cities first" (where the money is), then the start-up goes bust and either disappears or is taken over by an incumbent. Whatever the outcome, it never seems to reach the originally touted rural roll-outs though.

        2. Greybeaver

          Re: Now I'm confused...

          At least the "too bright" iridium provided entertainment. Iridium flares wsere truly spectacular if you were near the path. Occasionally visible in broad daylight, predicted paths were available from Heavens-Above.com. Now the visible satellites are mostly soviet and Russian space junk. and , of course the ISS.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. davcefai
    Joke

    Superspreader?

    Does this mean that the coronavirus particles will have more waves to ride down on?

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Superspreader?

      David Icke has been permanently suspended from Twitter, so we won't be hearing more from him from that source

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-54804240

  8. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    Won't work

    Drones, check

    5G, check

    Hydrogen, check

    Blockchain? Oops...

    AI? Oops...

    Seriously, their business plan only got 3 buzzwords. That's not enough to attract funding.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Won't work

      Seriously, their business plan only got 3 buzzwords. That's not enough to attract funding.

      They will be tethered to the ground by a blockchain.

      And monitored using AI (=Airborne Interception) radar.

    2. Drew Scriver Silver badge

      Re: Won't work

      You forgot ML and the Digital Divide.

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Won't work

      We need clouds. Don’t forget clouds, even though it literally is in the clouds.

    4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Won't work

      That's not enough to attract funding

      They should add "World Beating"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Won't work

        Sounds like a job for Dido Harding

    5. jake Silver badge

      Re: Won't work

      "Seriously, their business plan only got 3 buzzwords. That's not enough to attract funding."

      Actually, that is how it works. String a small handful of Industry Standard Buzzwords (ISBs) together in a new order, and attract a first round of funding in the five or six zero class. Pat self on back with founders stock and an impressive salary. Throw in another ISB or two, get another round of funding, often two orders of magnitude larger than the first. Board votes you a big bonus, a raise in salary, a six month sabbatical, and more stock. Throw in another ISB or two, and get a third level of funding, often close to two orders of magnitude larger than the second. Take firm public. Then retire "for personal reasons", unloading all interest in the company at current market rates ... before people realize it's all a fraud.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Won't work

        You cynic.

        Either that or you've been paying attention... :)

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Won't work

          Or perhaps a little bit of both, with a healthy pinch of reality mixed in for spice.

    6. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Joke

      Re: Won't work

      But but... cloud!!!

  9. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Arrgh

    Considering the source, I know this is an idiotic idea for many reasons but manglement will love it.

  10. David Pearce

    Backhaul and interference

    As noted, 100Gbps backhaul is not easy in any available microwave, especially when its cloudy

    How directional are the antennas? Frequency reuse is a headache and this drone becomes a tempting jamming target

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Backhaul and interference

      If it's tethered to the ground, run the backhaul cable in that tether.

  11. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Interesting but...

    This is an interesting idea, but I see a couple of issues

    1). Backhaul. Current mobile stations can be hooked up to any locally available internet connection, right up to high bandwidth fibre connections. Anyone who has used Satellite broadband is probably grimacing at the thought of being one of potentially thousands of users connected through a single radio based connection to a ground station. Note: I know existing systems connect thousands of users by radio based system, but these can use high power transmitters, which brings me to:

    2) Electrical power. Current base stations have access to mains electricity (and are often hooked up to electrical substations). As such, they have access to massive amounts of power, This means they can use much faster (and more powerful) internal hardware which enables the base station to use more bandwidth, and handle more users reliably, but requires more electrical power. Any drone based system is going to be limited to the power the drone can make available. That is going to put a limit on the number of users the stations can handle.

    3) Weight. More hardware = more weight. More weight = more fuel/power required for flying. Also, if the drones are using any renewable energy source, they will need batteries or capacitors to store electricity for when the renewable source isn't available. Those batteries or capacitors also add extra weight. When calculating fuel for flying, every extra KG counts (even on something as large as an Airliner).

    4) Weather. Can the signal or backhaul signal be blocked?

    1. oiseau Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Interesting but...

      1) Backhaul ...

      2) Electrical power ...

      3) Weight ...

      4) Weather ...

      All certainly very valid concerns.

      But you missed the most important one:

      5) Reliability: have you pondered on how easy it would be to shoot them out of the bloody sky?

      Absolutely idiotic idea.

      O.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting but...

        I have pondered and come to the conclusion that it would be bloody difficult to shoot them out of the sky. A drome at 60,000 feet? Probably beyond the range of an AK47. You could swat one with a Patriot missile, but why would you? surely you aren't that paranoid about 5G radiation?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Meh

          Re: Interesting but...

          I have pondered and come to the conclusion that it would be bloody difficult to shoot them out of the sky. A drome at 60,000 feet? Probably beyond the range of an AK47. You could swat one with a Patriot missile, but why would you? surely you aren't that paranoid about 5G radiation?

          I think these drones would be very vulnerable to interference by hostile nation states.

          There is obviously no risk from rifle fire - an AK-47 might have the range since, if it were not for air friction, a bullet fired vertically could ascend to 26 km = 85,000 feet (v^2/(2*9.8) metres, where v = 715 m/s). However, a 3 metre diameter drone at 60,000 feet would have an impossibly difficult angular width of 0.01 degrees.

          But an unfriendly nation state would have little trouble. A sophisticated high altitude supersonic surface to air missile would not be needed. A cheap, low tech (for a nation state) high altitude drone or some sort of high powered laser may well be sufficient.

      2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Interesting but...

        and...

        6. What devices are going to connect to these amazing, world beating flying overlord base station replacements? Oh phones. Tens of thousands of them. Many from a distance of many kilometres. With their low power antenna not designed to broadcast signals such a distance.

        If Gartner are doubtful about this, then it's probably the first thing that Gartner have ever got right (other than fleecing manglement all over the world with paid for "reports")

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting but...

      And once again the keen minds of El Reg cut through to the key obstacles that no one associated with this project had thought of. They must be kicking themselves that they didn't think through the ground station requirement, or realise that 60,000 feet was longer than their longest extension cord. And weight...they'll probably have to dump their plans to power it with redundant diesel locomotive engines...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ok but can the flying antenna be made to look like the flying aircraft carrier from Sky Captain and World of Tomorrow?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      ...or even one of the S.H.I.E.L.D flying carriers

    2. Frederic Bloggs

      Yes, what exactly have Captain Black and/or the Mysterons got to say on the matter? I'm guessing they won't like it much either.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Alien

        > Yes, what exactly have Captain Black and/or the Mysterons got to say on the matter? I'm guessing they won't like it much either.

        The Mysterons will say "This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us Earthling. Can you see me? My Teams is playing up again..."

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Can't hear you Mysterons, you're on Mute!! OO

  13. mark l 2 Silver badge

    As many others have pointed out these drones would not be practical for heavily built up area like cities and towns where fixed based stations are going to be more reliable, cheaper, have better back haul etc

    I guess they could make sense in rural areas, but would the company get enough customers and make enough money out in the sticks to make running the drones profitable?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Surely the valuable use case with these things isn't urban areas, or even rural areas for long term connectivity. Their use would be deploying 5G quickly where you have a surge need. So 5000 truck drivers parked on the M20 need Netflix on Jan 2nd? Launch a drone, steer your beam - sorted. Natural disaster takes out your ground infrastructure? Sling one of these in the back of your C-130 and get things back on line.

      I read the press release and nowhere does anyone claim that they will make loads of base stations redundant - just that they can provide coverage that would be the equivalent of loads of base stations. They never said it would give high speed internet to millions from a single drone.

      1. David Pearce

        Spot coverage

        5000 Netflix viewers in one place is >10 Gbps, a bit beyond one beam

        A single beam version of the drone - which should be much cheaper and lighter would deal with the emergency scenarios

  14. Neoc

    Coverage be damned...

    ...I'm more worried about what happens what a HAP decides to no longer follow the HA part of its name, and plummets.

    1. TchmilFan

      Re: Coverage be damned...

      I can assure you, sir, that we would have multiple redundant safety features built in to the system to counter any error... for example, the avionics suite will be licensed from Boeing, an acknowledged world-class provider.

  15. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Flying targets on a cable

    This sounds like a nightmare for aircraft. They'd need to have multiple tethers to keep them in one place and pilots would still be wanting to stay far far away. It's not just commercial aircraft, but private planes and emergency/police helicopters. Not only would the ballon be a target, so would the tethers. Imagine some internet meme about 5G causing a virus or some other malady and a bunch of nutters with disc grinders attack the cables. I know, far fetched, but still......

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