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"The Future of Connectivity: Exploring the Role of 5G Satellites and Navigating the Challenges Ahead"

Updated: Apr 18

5G technology primarily relies on terrestrial networks, such as towers and infrastructure on the ground. However, the demand for global connectivity and the potential benefits of satellite technology has led to discussions about integrating satellites into the 5G ecosystem.


SmartViser overview of 5G Statellite challenges


The deployment of satellites in conjunction with 5G networks can bring several benefits, especially in extending connectivity to underserved or remote areas and enhancing the overall performance of 5G networks. The Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are a vital component of modern satellite technology, offering advantages in terms of low latency communication, frequent revisits for Earth observation, and global broadband coverage. These orbit the Earth at altitudes ranging from approximately 160 to 2,000 km. Unlike Geostationary satellites, which orbit at higher altitudes and remain fixed over one point on the Earth's surface, LEO satellites move rapidly around the Earth.



SmartViser overview of Statellite Technologies LEO MEO GEO


According to GSMA Intelligence Space is getting more crowded with total LEO Satellites in orbit being 10x pre 2020 levels by the end of the decade.



GSMA Intelligence Satellite LEO Volumes

Here are some key characteristics and applications of LEO satellites:


Global Coverage: Satellites can provide global coverage, reaching areas that are challenging to connect with traditional terrestrial infrastructure. This is particularly important for extending 5G services to remote or rural locations where laying fiber-optic cables or building cell towers might be economically unfeasible.


Following the Satellite and Non-Terrestrial Network Summit at MWC 2024 in Barcelona, it is estimated that the only realistic means of reaching 7% of the world outside of mobile network coverage is by Satellite.



GSMA Intelligence Satellite Coverage map

Rapid Deployment: Satellite networks can be deployed relatively quickly compared to the construction of terrestrial infrastructure. This enables faster access to high-speed internet and 5G services in areas affected by natural disasters or where rapid deployment is essential.


Low Latency in Remote Areas: Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, positioned at lower altitudes, can offer lower latency compared to traditional geostationary satellites. This is crucial for real-time applications such as video conferencing, online gaming, and other interactive services.


Backhaul Support: Satellites can play a role in providing backhaul support for 5G networks. In areas where terrestrial backhaul is challenging to deploy, satellite links can help connect remote cell sites to the core network infrastructure.


Redundancy and Reliability: Satellite networks can serve as a redundant and reliable communication link, enhancing the resilience of 5G networks. In the event of terrestrial network failures due to natural disasters or other disruptions, satellite connectivity can help maintain communication services.


Mobility Support: Satellites are well-suited to provide connectivity to moving platforms such as airplanes, ships, and vehicles. This can be beneficial for enhancing 5G services in transportation and mobile communication.


Scalability: Satellite constellations can be scaled up to meet the increasing demand for connectivity. As the number of users and devices connected to 5G networks grows, satellite deployments can be expanded to accommodate the demand.


Connectivity in Challenging Terrain: Satellites can provide connectivity in areas with challenging terrain, such as mountainous regions, deserts, or dense forests, where deploying terrestrial infrastructure is difficult.


Digital Inclusion: 5G satellite deployments contribute to digital inclusion by extending high-speed internet access to areas that were previously underserved. This helps bridge the digital divide by providing connectivity to remote and marginalized communities.


It's worth noting that while there are clear benefits, challenges such as cost, regulatory considerations, and technical complexities need to be addressed for the successful integration of satellite technology with 5G networks. Ongoing advancements and collaborations in the space and telecommunications industries will likely continue to shape the landscape of 5G satellite deployments.



SmartViser 5G Satellite Providers


Who are the main Satellite Communication providers who are looking to transform the telco space?


SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is actively deploying its Starlink satellite constellation to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet service globally. While Starlink was initially focused on residential internet services, there is potential for collaboration with 5G providers to extend connectivity to remote or underserved areas. Since 2019 Starlink has grown its network in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to roughly 6,000 satellites positioning itself as the largest satellite operator. Musk has said he eventually wants to send up to 42,000 satellites into space.

According to Business Insider:

SpaceX says its service has download speeds between 25 and 220 Mbps and most users report speeds over 100 Mbps, as well as upload speeds between 5 Mbps and 20 Mbps — speeds that are ideal for internet activities like gaming and streaming.

Prices in the US are around $599 for the initial equipment and set up with a monthly subscription of around $110.


Satellite Types: LEO

Current Fleet: 6,000 LEO

Spectrum used: Ka-band

Telecommunications Partnerships: KDDI Japan, Optus Australia, One NZ, New Zealand, T-Mobile US, Salt Switzerland, Entel Chile, Rogers Canada

Subscribers: 2.7M



Eutelsat OneWeb, a subsidiary of Eutelsat Group, provides broadband satellite Internet services in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Founded by Greg Wyler in 2012, it launched its first 6 satellites in February 2019. However, it faced financial challenges and entered bankruptcy in March 2020. Following the reorganization, it emerged from bankruptcy in November 2020 with new ownership. By 2021, its largest shareholders included Bharti Global, Eutelsat, and the Government of the United Kingdom. SoftBank retained a 12% equity holding. On 28 September 2023, Eutelsat announced the completion of its merger with OneWeb, creating a new "Eutelsat Group" company, with subsidiaries "Eutelsat" and "Eutelsat OneWeb.


Satellite Types: GEO, LEO

Current Fleet: LEO 542

Spectrum used: Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band

Telecommunications Partnerships: Bharti Airtel India, Telefonica Europe and Latin America, Orange Africa and Europe, Veon Asia, BT UK


Amazon's Project Kuiper aims to deploy a constellation of 3,236 low Earth orbit satellites to provide broadband internet services globally. Their main mission is to bring affordable broadband to consumers, governments, businesses, and other organizations across the world.

Back in September 2023, it was announced that Vodafone and Vodacom plan to use Project Kuiper’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation to extend the reach of their 4G/5G networks

According to Vodacom's press release

“At Vodacom, our purpose is to connect for a better future, and we work every day to bring more people in Africa online,” said Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group. “Collaborating with Project Kuiper gives us an exciting new path to scale our efforts, using Amazon’s satellite constellation to quickly reach more customers across the African continent.”

According to Amazon:


An ultra-compact design 7-inch square customer terminal weighing one pound will offer speeds up to 100 Mbps. This design will connect residential customers for lower-costs, as well as government and enterprise customers pursuing applications like ground mobility and internet of things.
A high-bandwidth design 19 inches by 30 inches terminal will deliver speeds up to 1 gigabit per second for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications

Satellite Types: LEO

Current Fleet: LEO 3,236

Spectrum used: Ka-band,

Telecommunications Partnerships: Verizon USA, Vodafone Europe, Vodacom South Africa, NTT, NASA, Pentagon Defense Innovation Unit



SES is a leading global satellite operator, providing satellite-based communication solutions to broadcasters, content providers, internet service providers, mobile network operators, governments, and enterprises worldwide. SES was founded in 1985 as Europe's first private satellite operator. Since then, it has grown into one of the world's largest satellite operators, with a fleet of geostationary satellites covering every continent.


Satellite Types: GEO, MEO

Current Fleet: GEO 55, MEO 20

Spectrum used:  Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band, L-band

Telecommunications Partnerships: Digicel Pacific, Orange Africa, Vodafone Cook Islands, Jio India


Viasat is a global communications company that offers satellite-based broadband services, secure networking solutions, and satellite technologies for both commercial and government applications. Viasat was co-founded in May 1986 by Mark Dankberg, Mark Miller, and Steve Hart. Viasat said it is providing Wi-Fi to more than 3,500 commercial aircraft, up 17% year-on-year, with over 1400 planes in the pipeline.


Satellite Types: GEO

Current Fleet: GEO 4

Spectrum used:  Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band, L-band


Intelsat, a multinational satellite services provider, has its corporate headquarters located in Luxembourg and administrative headquarters in Tysons Corner, Virginia, United States. The organization traces its origins to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO), commonly known as INTELSAT, which operated as an intergovernmental consortium from 1964 to 2001. During this period, Intelsat managed a constellation of communication satellites dedicated to offering international telecommunications and broadcast services. In March 2024 Intelsat has made a firm commitment to buy $250 million worth of LEO capacity over six years starting mid-2024 from One Web LEO.


Satellite Types: GEO

Current Fleet: GEO 55

Spectrum used:  Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band


Telesat is a leading global satellite operator headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, that provides satellite communication services and solutions to customers worldwide. Telesat was founded in 1969 as a Canadian Crown corporation before being privatized in 2007. It has since grown into one of the world's largest and most innovative satellite operators. Telesat operates a fleet of geostationary satellites positioned in orbit around the Earth, as well as the Telesat Lightspeed constellation, which is currently under development. This constellation, utilizing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, aims to deliver high-capacity, low-latency broadband connectivity to underserved and remote regions.


Satellite Types: LEO

Current Fleet: LEO 195

Spectrum used:  Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band

Telecommunications Partnerships: Bell Canada, Shaw Canada


The satellite industry's landscape, as depicted by the accomplishments and aspirations of these various organizations above, demonstrates a fusion of innovation, strategic collaborations, and technological advancements. SpaceX's Starlink, revolutionizing internet accessibility, Eutelsat and OneWeb's collaborative efforts, and Amazon's Project Kuiper's ambitious objectives all redefine the possibilities in global connectivity. Companies like SES, Viasat, Intelsat, and Telesat consistently push the limits of satellite communication. These advancements not only highlight the evolution of satellite technology but also emphasize the increasing importance of space-based services in addressing contemporary challenges and shaping the future of global communication.


Testing Challenges and Complexities for Mobile Network Operators, Private Networks and Mission Critical Networks looking to interwork with Satellite technology for 5G deployments


The advent of the fifth generation of mobile technology, known as 5G, heralds a transformative shift in communication for both consumers and businesses. With its promise of unprecedented speed, capacity, low latency, and flexibility, 5G opens the door to a plethora of new use cases across various sectors. Already underway in several markets, the 5G revolution is set to impact diverse verticals such as automotive, e-health, energy, public safety, defense, entertainment, and manufacturing.


Various organizations worldwide have acknowledged the pivotal role of satellites within the 5G ecosystem, recognizing their unique attributes. Satellites have been integrated into the 5G roadmap of 3GPP, with several relevant study items completed in 3GPP Release-15 and Release-16, and new work items selected for 3GPP Release-17. Leveraging their distinctive features, satellites can extend the benefits of 5G beyond urban areas and facilitate the delivery of content to the edge of 5G networks, minimizing latency. Consequently, 5G-based satellite networks will empower mobile network operators (MNOs) and telecommunications operators to address challenging markets, thereby tackling crucial 5G challenges.


It will be very important for Mobile Network Operators to test all key technologies Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE).



SmartViser 5G Satellite Test Automation

Some of the testing areas include:

  • Web Browsing

  • Call Performance

  • Ping

  • Latency

  • Network Coverage assessment

  • Connectivity Assessment and Signal Strength

  • Data Performance

  • Mobility testing with handovers on different technologies

  • Satellite network coverage and performance

  • Service Network Quality

  • Messaging

  • Device Performance and Interoperability.


Conclusion:

It is clear that satellite communication can greatly positively contribute to the 5G Ecosystem. With its unique characteristics, it can greatly help to address a number of challenges that could not be managed before mainly the coverage of hard-to-reach areas. It will be necessary though to develop comprehensive test beds and testing strategies to evaluate the performance and identify early any gaps and complexities.

 

Do you want to know more about how SmartViser can help you with your 5G satellite and terrestrial deployments?



Press Contact:

Debbie Bouffler


 

Author:

Susie Siouti SmartViser Chief Commercial Officer

Susie Siouti is the Chief Commercial Officer for SmartViser, helping organisations in the Telecommunications industry offer superior end-user quality of experience and service by introducing innovative test automation products. Susie has 20 years of experience in the Telecoms industry and, in that time, has led teams across the world, mainly in Testing and Compliance. Holding an MBA from Henley Business School brings diverse skills and expertise, including business acumen, strategic thinking, financial management, sales and marketing expertise, leadership, and innovation.


Susie joined SmartViser in 2016 and is part of the internal steering committee responsible for developing and implementing the company's commercial strategy and encouraging a customer-centric culture. The main mission is to help organizations to create value by offering better quality products and services by improving operational efficiency and innovation.



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