Satellite Connectivity and NTN | 5G Magazine, Nov 2023 Edition

This edition dives into the evolving world of satellite technology and its synergy with modern communication networks, highlighting key developments and challenges. Seraphim opens the discussion with a detailed look at the global race in satellite connectivity, emphasizing its impact on the mobile phone industry. Astrocast then explores the economic aspects of Satellite IoT, underlining its growing importance in global connectivity.

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The Private Network Revolution

Last year, the space sector restarted an arms race for technology dominance in mobile phones.

A convergence of new technology, regulatory changes, global partnerships, and new standards means that standard mobile phones will be able to communicate with satellites, improving satellite connectivity everywhere. Keen hikers have used satellite-to-cell technology for well over a decade: Globalstar’s Spot emergency beacon, for example, can be used to call in a rescue from anywhere. But the high cost of satellite connectivity data and phones means that satellite-to-cell has, until now, remained a niche market. In recent years, however, several innovative startups, including AST Mobile and Lynk, have been working to revolutionize the satellite-to-cell industry. Their ambitious goal is to deliver broadband to mobile phones. This will take quite some time to deliver. Meanwhile, large swathes of relatively well-connected countries, such as the UK, still lack basic messaging coverage. But that seems likely to change very rapidly in 2023.

How has mobile technology evolved over the years?

The foundation for the development of universal messaging via satellite connectivity was laid with the ratification of the Third Generation Partnership Project – known as ‘3GPP Release 17’ – in March 2022. This seemingly mundane document forms the backbone of most mobile phone operations. 3GPP standards were introduced to enhance interoperability when 3G was first launched, allowing mobile phones to operate across various networks.

As technology has evolved (we are now on 5G!), the name has remained the same. Stakeholders ranging from chip and phone manufacturers to mobile network operators have collaborated on each release of these standards to implement new technology. The latest focus has been on allowing satellites to integrate into terrestrial networks, essentially functioning as cell towers in space. Mobile phone chips are built to this standard. This means that the next generation of smartphones released in 2023 and 2024 will be able to message anywhere across the globe, no matter the terrain, thanks to the use of satellites.

The race to develop satellite connectivity technology

Over the last year, the race has been on to see who would leverage satellite connectivity technology the fastest. As is often the case, Elon Musk jumped first. His company, SpaceX, acquired satellite IoT provider Swarm in 2021 to help build its capabilities. Then in August 2022, SpaceX announced their partnership with T-Mobile, promising an end to coverage blackspots for T-Mobile customers using Starlink’s Gen 2 satellites. Messaging would come first, with higher data rates allowing voice and more coming later. SpaceX is also rolling this out internationally, with messaging promised on the Swiss network Salt by 2024.

In March of this year, SpaceX took the next steps towards deployment. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that mobile phone operators, such as T-Mobile, could allow satellite operators, like SpaceX, to use their spectrum. Spectrum is the means by which satellites talk to devices on Earth and represents the key enabler for the satellite industry.

Radiofrequency spectrum is the range of electromagnetic waves used to transmit data, and the amount of data that can be transmitted is directly related to the amount of spectrum you can use. Simply put, if a satellite connectivity operator does not have a spectrum allocation, it cannot communicate with Earth or any devices on it. Spectrum is limited, and, in the case of the mobile services spectrum used to talk to mobile devices, most of the spectrum was often allocated in the 1990s.

Therefore, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be allocated a meaningful amount of spectrum now. In addition to spectrum, satellite operators also need landing rights, i.e., permissions from each country to allow service and connection in that country. That is why Starlink, for example, is not available yet in every country. Partnering with someone who has both spectrum and landing rights, as SpaceX did with T-Mobile, could be the fastest route to deployment. Apple also took the partnering route, this time working with a satellite connectivity operator that has spectrum and international landing rights. Apple announced their partnership with Globalstar in September 2022. Arguably, they are ahead of SpaceX after quickly deploying the iPhone’s emergency beacon capability in November. This is the first time such a feature has been available via satellite without a specialized device, like Globalstar’s Spot. Messaging will come next as Globalstar launches more satellites.

How can companies adapt to these growing changes?

To respond quickly, companies don’t have time to deploy their own constellations – for most, that would take two to three years at least, even if they had the spectrum. Technology that leverages existing satellite connectivity technology will be increasingly attractive, and startups like Skylo and ESat Global are working to do just that. Phone manufacturers and network operators are likely to find willing partners too. Heritage GEO operators, like Intelsat, Viasat, and SES, have seen their business models squeezed by SpaceX and OneWeb. Providing connectivity to mobile phones is a whole new market with a different way of doing business. It will be interesting to see who innovates in this space. 

Ultimately, the last few months have presented a masterclass in the competitive arms race for new satellite connectivity technologies. Everyone outside the industry ignores the announcement of a new technology or standard. A competitor pre-empts another’s announcement. Suddenly, in the space of a few short months, the pressure is clearly on for every single player in the market to innovate or fall by the wayside. Some of these companies could ultimately be fighting for their survival in this market, and the innovation that drives their survival will be exciting to watch.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of modern telecommunications, two technologies are making significant waves: 5G and satellite communications. Both technologies are distinct yet complementary, providing unique advantages that are set to revolutionize how we communicate. 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks, is a groundbreaking innovation in the telecommunications sector. Characterized by its ability to offer peak data rates of up to 20 Gbps, 5G is set to bring unprecedented speed to the palm of our hands. Additionally, it significantly reduces end-to-end latency to as low as one millisecond, enabling near-real-time communication. The improved network efficiency enhances spectral efficiency and network capacity, supporting the seamless connectivity of a vast number of devices per square kilometer. A notable feature of 5G is network slicing, a technology that allows the creation of virtual networks tailored to cater to specific applications and services.

Table: 1G to 5G Mobile Network Evolution

Generation Technology Features
1G Analog Voice-only services, limited capacity and coverage
2G Digital Basic data services (SMS, MMS), enhanced call quality and security
3G Digital Faster mobile internet access, video calling, improved global roaming
4G LTE High-speed data services, mobile video streaming, online gaming
5G New Radio (NR) Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC), Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC)

Satellite communication, on the other hand, involves the use of artificial satellites for transmission and reception of signals. Depending on their orbital characteristics, these satellites can be categorized into Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Low Earth Orbit (LEO). These satellites utilize a variety of frequency bands, including the C-band, Ku-band, and Ka-band, each offering unique advantages in terms of bandwidth, coverage, and signal quality. The applications of satellite communication are diverse, ranging from television broadcasting, telephony, and internet access to remote sensing and navigation.

Table: Comparing Satellite Types

Parameter LEO (Low Earth Orbit) MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit)
Distance from Earth Orbit at an altitude of below 2,000 km (1,243 miles) Orbit at an altitude of 2,000–35,800 km (1,243–22,245 miles) Orbit at approximately 36,000 km (22,245 miles) altitude
Coverage Area Small, requiring many ground stations Large, requiring fewer ground stations Very large, requiring few ground stations
Number of Satellites Required Hundreds 10 to 20 3 to 6
Rotation Period 1.5 hours 5 to 12 hours 24 hours
Lifespan 5 years 10 to 15 years 10 to 15 years
Launching Cost Low cost per satellite Moderate cost per satellite High cost per satellite
Sample Applications Communication, imaging, military reconnaissance, spying, remote sensing, data communication, broadband internet Communication and navigation (e.g. GPS – Global Positioning System, Galileo, GLONASS) Telephony, data/TV distribution, earth atmosphere tracking, weather forecasting and monitoring, satellite radio
Sample Operators OneWeb, Starlink, Iridium, Amazon Kuiper, Telesat SES/O3B Intelsat, Eutelsat, Viasat

Table: Satellite Frequency Bands

Frequency Band Frequency Applications
VHF-band 0.1-1.3 GHz Analog TV broadcasting, FM radio, MRI medical devices, and terrestrial and marine communication systems
UHF-band 0.3-1.0 GHz Satellite television, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, television broadcasting, mobile communications such as GSM, CDMA, and LTE services
L-band 1.5–1.6 GHz Communication and Navigation (e.g., GPS – Global Positioning System, Galileo, GLONASS), Satellite Radio
S-Band 2–4 GHz Weather radar, Surface ship radar, and some communications satellites, especially those of NASA for communication with ISS and Space Shuttle
C-Band 4–8 GHz Satellite communications for full-time satellite TV networks or raw satellite feeds. It’s especially prevalent in areas with tropical rainfall due to its resistance to rain fade.
X-Band 8–12 GHz Radar applications include continuous-wave, pulsed, single-polarisation, dual-polarization, synthetic aperture radar, and phased arrays. Civil, military, and government entities use sub-bands of the X-band radar frequency for weather monitoring, air traffic control, maritime vessel traffic control, defense tracking, and vehicle speed detection for law enforcement.
Ku-Band 12–18 GHz For satellite communications, especially for downlinks. It is used for satellite television and for specific applications such as NASA’s Tracking Data Relay Satellite used for International Space Station (ISS) communications and SpaceX Starlink satellites.
Ka-Band 27–40 GHz For satellite communications, especially for uplinks. It’s utilized in high-resolution, close-range targeting radars on military aircraft, Vehicle speed detection systems, space telescopes, Traffic control services
V-Band 40-75 GHz The V-Band is most often used for wireless backhaul and point-to-point/point-to-multi-point radio links. These systems are primarily used for high-capacity, line-of-sight communications and are license-free in many countries.
E-Band 60-90 GHz The E-Band is used for RF/Microwave backhaul links. The short wavelengths in this range give signals directional properties and also enable a large range of data rates up to a gigabit-per-second. 60 GHz is also a good choice to covert satellite-to-satellite communications because the earth’s atmosphere acts like a shield preventing earth-based eavesdropping.
W-Band 75-110 GHz The W-Band frequency overlaps the NATO-designated M band (60–100 GHz). The W band is used for satellite communications, millimeter-wave radar research, military radar targeting and tracking applications, and some non-military applications.

The Growing Demand for High-Speed Communications

We live in an era of unprecedented connectivity characterized by the increasing prevalence of smart devices, the explosion in data consumption, rapid urbanization, and the advent of cutting-edge technologies. These trends are driving an insatiable demand for higher data rates, underlining the crucial role of high-speed communication infrastructure.

Connected IoT and Wearable Devices

One key trend is the rising number of connected devices. From smartphones and tablets to IoT devices and wearables, our world is more connected than ever before. Concurrently, we are witnessing a surge in data consumption. As users tap into the vast online knowledge repository, engage in digital media, and interact on social platforms, they consume more data than ever.

Rapid Urbanization

Moreover, rapid urbanization has resulted in densely populated areas, further escalating the demand for robust, high-speed communication infrastructure. Emerging technologies are also at play here, with new applications and services necessitating higher data rates and lower latency.

4K/8K Video Streaming and Online Gaming

One area where the need for high-speed communications is evident is video streaming and online gaming. The popularity of platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video, along with the advent of 4K and 8K video resolutions, requires higher data rates for smooth, uninterrupted streaming. Similarly, real-time multiplayer games and cloud gaming services demand low latency and high-speed connections for optimal user experiences.

Virtual and Augmented Reality Applications

In addition, virtual and augmented reality applications are becoming increasingly prevalent. Virtual Reality (VR) offers immersive experiences that transport users to computer-generated environments, while Augmented Reality (AR) enhances our perception of our surroundings by overlaying digital content onto the physical world. Both these technologies necessitate high data rates and low latency to provide seamless, high-quality experiences.

Shift in Work Culture with Covid-19

The recent global shifts in work culture further underscore the growing need for high-speed communications. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the already growing trend of remote work, leading to an increased reliance on teleconferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. High-quality video and audio, essential for effective communication in this context, demand high-speed connections and low latency.

Limitations of 4G/LTE

Previous generation networks, such as 4G/LTE, have limitations in catering to these demands. The data rates offered by these networks are insufficient to support high-resolution video streaming, VR/AR applications, and other data-intensive applications. Moreover, the higher latency characteristic of these networks is inadequate for real-time applications such as online gaming and remote surgery. Network congestion is another issue, as these networks struggle to support the rapidly increasing number of connected devices and the concurrent rise in data consumption.

The Importance of Coverage and Low-Latency for real-time communications

Latency, in its simplest terms, is the time taken for a signal to travel from a source to a destination and back. It is a critical aspect of communication networks that significantly impacts user experience. Various factors, such as propagation delay, transmission delay, processing delay, and queuing delay, can affect latency. In the context of user experience, higher latency can lead to buffering, lagging, and degraded quality in real-time applications. The realm of real-time applications underscores the importance of low-latency connections. Applications like online gaming, live video streaming, teleconferencing, and remote control of machinery rely on seamless, uninterrupted experiences, which can only be facilitated by low-latency connections.

V2X Communication

One of the most prominent applications of low-latency connections is in the field of autonomous vehicles. Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communication allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles, infrastructure, and devices. Fast communication between vehicles and infrastructure is crucial for the safe and efficient operation of autonomous vehicles. Here, 5G and satellite networks can play a critical role in providing the necessary coverage and low-latency connections for large-scale connected vehicle deployments.

Healthcare Sector

In the healthcare sector, again, coverage and low-latency communication is of paramount importance. Telemedicine leverages communication technology to provide healthcare services remotely, and latency becomes a critical factor in ensuring real-time communication between healthcare professionals and patients. In the not-so-distant future, with more complex applications such as remote surgery, where surgical procedures will be performed from a distant location using robotic surgical systems, the requirement for network coverage and low latency will be even more stringent. Again, 5G and satellite networks are instrumental in delivering the network coverage and low-latency connections needed for telemedicine and future remote surgery applications.

Finance Sector

The world of finance is another area where low-latency connections are critical. High-frequency trading (HFT) uses algorithms and computer programs to execute large numbers of financial transactions in fractions of a second. Financial institutions and traders rely heavily on low-latency connections to maintain a competitive edge in the fast-paced trading environment. 5G and satellite networks step in to provide the necessary coverage and low-latency connectivity for real-time financial transactions and market data exchange.

Bridging the Divide | The Integration of Terrestrial and Non-Terrestrial Networks

Satellite systems are instrumental in meeting the diverse requirements of 5G networks. Their abilities to extend coverage to underserved and remote areas, provide network resilience and redundancy, and enable global IoT and M2M connectivity have proven pivotal. The integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks is a balancing act, combining the strengths of both to deliver comprehensive connectivity solutions. Terrestrial networks offer high-capacity, low-latency connections in densely populated areas but often struggle with coverage constraints. Due to economic and geographic limitations, they are less effective in serving remote, rural, and underserved regions. In contrast, satellite networks can cover vast geographical areas, including remote regions, oceans, and airspace, thereby filling in the coverage gaps left by terrestrial networks. Earth stations and satellite gateways serve as the intermediaries, facilitating communication between satellite constellations and terrestrial networks to ensure seamless connectivity. The likes of Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites, and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations have all been instrumental in this capacity.

Sample Integration Aspects

Let’s explore some key aspects of terrestrial and non-terrestrial network integration:

Hybrid Networks: The integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks involves the deployment of hybrid networks that leverage the strengths of both technologies. By combining the wide coverage of satellite networks with the high capacity and low latency of 5G, hybrid networks can provide comprehensive and reliable connectivity.

Satellite Backhauling: Satellite backhauling refers to the use of satellite links for connecting remote or underserved areas to the core network. By utilizing satellite links for backhaul, 5G networks can extend their reach beyond the limitations of terrestrial infrastructure and provide connectivity to remote regions.

Optimized Performance and Latency: The integration of 5G and satellite networks aims to minimize latency and optimize network performance. By strategically locating edge computing resources and satellite gateways, data can be processed closer to the end-users, reducing latency and enabling real-time applications.

Furthermore, satellite systems can act as a safety net for terrestrial networks, providing invaluable resilience and redundancy. These systems can rapidly deploy in the event of network failures, natural disasters, or cyberattacks, ensuring continuous, critical communication services when terrestrial infrastructure is compromised. Finally, satellite systems enable wide-area coverage for IoT devices and M2M communications, even in remote and hard-to-reach locations. These systems play a vital role in global monitoring and tracking and can facilitate seamless cross-border data transfer, regardless of terrestrial network limitations. However, the harmonious coexistence of these two network types hinges on seamless connectivity and handover between networks. Interoperability and seamless handover processes are crucial to ensure an uninterrupted user experience. Standardization efforts are also key, as they facilitate the development of common protocols to aid network integration. But the path to integration isn’t without its obstacles. Technical issues, regulatory hurdles, and economic challenges all pose significant challenges that must be overcome to achieve successful network integration.

Challenges in Integrating Terrestrial & Satellite Networks

Integrating terrestrial and satellite networks is a complex task that comes with its own set of challenges. These can be broadly categorized into technical, regulatory, and economic hurdles. Let’s delve deeper into each of these areas.

Signal interference

One of the key technical challenges is managing signal interference. As terrestrial and satellite networks often operate within the same frequency bands, there is a risk of signals interfering with each other, leading to degraded service quality. Mitigating this issue requires innovative solutions like dynamic spectrum sharing and advanced interference cancellation techniques.

Spectrum allocation

Spectrum allocation is another technical and regulatory challenge. The radio frequency spectrum is a finite resource, and coordinating its use among different network providers can be a complex task. This becomes even more complicated at a global level due to different countries having their own regulations and standards regarding spectrum use.

Regulatory challenges

Regulatory challenges also extend to licensing considerations. The process of obtaining licenses for operating networks, particularly for satellite constellations, can be arduous and time-consuming. Navigating these legal and bureaucratic hurdles is crucial for the successful deployment and operation of integrated networks.

Economic challenges

Finally, there are economic challenges. Deploying and maintaining a network, whether terrestrial or satellite, involves substantial capital and operational expenditures. The cost-effectiveness of network integration will, therefore, be a key consideration for network providers. Balancing these costs while ensuring affordable access for end users is a delicate balancing act that providers must master.

Advancements in Satellite Communications

Let’s explore some key advancements in satellite communications that will shape the future of the industry.

Improved Satellite Payloads

Advancements in satellite payloads, including higher-frequency bands, wider bandwidths, and improved signal processing capabilities, will enhance the data transmission capacity and performance of satellites. This will enable higher data rates, increased throughput, and improved signal quality.

Advanced Modulation and Coding Schemes

Future satellite communication systems will leverage advanced modulation and coding schemes to maximize the efficiency and reliability of data transmission. Techniques like higher-order modulation, advanced error correction coding, and adaptive modulation will enable higher data rates and improved spectral efficiency.

Satellite-to-Satellite Communication and Inter-Satellite Links

The concept of satellite-to-satellite communication and inter-satellite links will play a crucial role in future satellite constellations. By enabling direct communication between satellites and reducing reliance on ground-based infrastructure, these advancements will improve data routing efficiency, reduce latency, and enhance overall network performance.

Next-Generation Satellite Constellations

The evolution of satellite constellations, including the deployment of more advanced Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations, will revolutionize global connectivity. These constellations, consisting of hundreds or even thousands of satellites working in harmony, will provide enhanced coverage, low-latency connections, and improved network resilience.

Space-Based Internet-of-Things (IoT)

Satellite communications will play a pivotal role in enabling global connectivity for IoT devices. Future satellite networks will provide seamless integration with IoT applications, supporting massive machine-to-machine communication, asset tracking, environmental monitoring, and other IoT use cases on a global scale.

Shaping the Future | The Path Ahead

In conclusion, integrating terrestrial and satellite networks is a complex but necessary undertaking to meet the coverage and performance requirements of 5G and beyond. Despite the challenges involved, several solutions exist that can facilitate this integration, many of which leverage emerging technologies like software-defined networking, AI, machine learning, and edge computing. Looking to the future, both the 5G and satellite markets are expected to witness significant growth. This potential for expansion is attracting interest and investment from private companies, governments, and international organizations alike.

However, as the telecommunications landscape evolves, so too must its players. Satellite operators and terrestrial network providers will need to adapt their business models and develop the necessary skills within their workforce. Moreover, the societal impact of integrated networks cannot be understated. By bridging the digital divide and enabling new applications across various sectors such as healthcare, education, agriculture, and transportation, integrated networks have the potential to enhance quality of life and spur economic development globally significantly. As we move forward, it will be exciting to see how these advancements shape the future of network integration and the broader telecommunications landscape.

The Operational IoT market continues to expand as organizations across the world imagine an extraordinary range of opportunities to leverage sensor technology. Weather monitoring stations are transforming the efficiency and environmental performance of remote copper mines and helping farmers to safeguard crops and livestock in a changing climate. The shipping industry is improving cargo traceability to mitigate ongoing disruption. Charities are monitoring water quality across Africa to ensure remote communities have reliable access to safe drinking water. With the arrival of robust, proven, cost-effective satellite connections, the true potential of these IoT applications can be realized. With estimates suggesting there will be tens of millions of satellite IoT devices in use by 2030, access to reliable, global coverage is now enabling new opportunities for systems integrators (SIs) across the world.

“It is now time for SIs to build a business case for Satellite IoT,” says Eric Menard, Vice President of Strategy and Business at Astrocast.

Market Expectation

Satellite connectivity may have been available for years, but the market has been waiting for a satellite connection designed specifically for widescale IoT deployment. Many of the key target applications – from agriculture to supply chain – do not require the continuous or real-time communication associated with high-cost legacy satellite connectivity. These solutions play a critical role, but they are too expensive and power-hungry to support a compelling business case for most Operational IoT deployments.

A farmer requires only daily or twice daily updates of cattle location to track herd health. A copper mine uses intermittent updates on the water table level to provide operational visibility and meet environmental regulations. A shipping line does not require real-time updates of the temperature of its containers. Transmitting data either once or twice a day – or taking multiple recordings that can be buffered and uploaded every 12 hours – is perfectly adequate.

The value of this data is significant – especially in areas such as shipping. The use of IoT sensors can ensure that high-value cargo, including pharmaceuticals, are kept at the right temperature and left untampered. Any deviation will prompt an alarm and allow remediation where possible, resulting in less wastage and better integrity.

Building Confidence

However, while the business case is compelling, such IoT operations are incredibly cost-sensitive. When a deployment may extend to tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of devices, small differences in performance and lifetime will fundamentally change the return on investment (ROI). The business case becomes even more sensitive when extended to remote areas without terrestrial network coverage and require satellite connectivity. How can the sensors be deployed to remote locations cost-effectively? What is the cost of satellite transmission? How long must the battery last on a sensor to ensure the ROI is not compromised? Plus, how can the data be collected and used to drive tangible commercial benefits? Even before exploring the technology, SIs need robust due diligence to ensure confidence in the business credibility and model of the satellite provider.

Ensuring excellent satellite coverage, including across international waters, is essential. Business longevity is also fundamental for deployments that could be in the field for a decade. In addition to verifying strong financial credentials, it is also important to assess the billing model, contractual arrangements, warranties, and support structure. Is the company committed to supporting its SIs not only in the prototyping and field-testing phase but also through industrialization, production, and taking the solution to the market? Each stage of this process will raise new challenges. Having a partner in place with both the knowledge and commitment to overcome problems will transform the likelihood of commercial success.

Proof of Concept

Only once the foundations of a business case have been confirmed should an SI make the investment in a technology assessment. For many SIs looking to expand existing IoT solutions, speed of integration is an important consideration. From the quality of documentation to the availability of training, the way a satellite company works with its SIs to ease the integration of SatIoT into the existing IoT solution set can make a significant difference in time to market. For the past few years, a number of innovative SIs have been testing the latest generation of cost-effective SatIoT connectivity to determine the viability and requirements of an industrial-scale deployment. They have built prototypes and invested in field testing. The process has highlighted the importance of ultra-low battery consumption to minimize the need for replacements in situ.

Typically, a business case may only stand up if the battery lasts five to ten years. In some locations, the Satellite IoT solution can be integrated with a solar panel, overcoming the need for a dedicated battery. SIs have also worked closely with SatIoT providers to optimize antenna design and ensure the antenna is both reliable and easy to integrate. A small, flat antenna may be essential, but additional questions will arise specific to an area of deployment. For example, lightweight but robust enclosures are now used to securely attach an antenna to livestock to track their movement across remote farmland and identify any that leave the herd, indicating ill health or injury. Or a simple addition of a Bluetooth connection between the device and the SatIoT antenna provides an excellent solution to achieve indoor satellite IoT deployments in rural locations with no terrestrial networks. The availability of bidirectional connectivity also provides SIs with a future-proofed solution. Updates can be downloaded remotely to the sensors as required – for example, if a customer wants to change the frequency of data recording.

Conclusion

These innovators have led the way, discovering how to optimize SatIoT solutions and antenna design to deliver a robust, viable, and cost-effective deployment. Critically, these companies have proved the business case for Satellite IoT. While the demand was never in question, the technology is now in place to enable it. Whether it is shipping containers, agriculture, environmental monitoring, or animal tracking, SatIoT developments are now moving into the next phase of industrial-scale deployment. And this is just the start. The shipping industry, for example, has an array of complex operational challenges in its management of 50 million containers across the globe. Tracking location and temperature monitoring are delivering financial benefits. Adding the ability to identify whether a container has been entered or tampered with during the voyage will support the war on piracy and drugs. Adding smoke detectors will raise the alarm when a fire breaks out on board – an increasing concern if owners fail to inform the shipping company that the container holds self-combusting cargo, such as Lithium-Ion batteries.

The door is open for SIs across the world to build on the knowledge gained over the last few years, explore the global reach of cost-effective satellite connections, and build a compelling business case for Satellite IoT solutions that will transform operational efficiency for organizations of every size across the world.

As the global mobile communication industry eagerly awaits the next revolution in connectivity, all eyes are fixed on the goal of providing seamless coverage anywhere on the planet. 5G New Radio NTN is more than likely to become the technology that will lead us straight to an efficient and much-desired fusion of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks – let’s look at why.

Much has been said and written about 5G New Radio (5G NR). But often in contradictory terms as numerous trade media and industry analysts offer their different opinions on the subject. This tends to muddy the waters and make it harder to understand what 5G NR actually is, how it works, which advantages it brings to the table, and – perhaps most importantly – how it will affect mobile communication in the future.

Understanding 5G NR

5G NR defines how compatible devices such as smartphones, IoT devices and gateways connect to 5G NR network infrastructure to transmit data wirelessly. It also introduces several major improvements, such as:

Enhanced speed and capacity – 5G NR delivers significantly faster data speeds and higher network capacity, enabling ultra-fast downloads, high-resolution streaming, and improved overall network performance.

Lower latency – With lower latency, 5G NR delivers near-instantaneous response times, opening doors for real-time applications like autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and immersive augmented reality experiences.

Improved reliability and coverage – 5G NR offer improved reliability, enabling mission-critical applications that demand robust and uninterrupted connectivity.

New and innovative use cases – 5G NR unlocks new possibilities for transformative use cases such as smart cities, remote industrial automation, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality, revolutionizing industries and empowering novel applications.

A serious business enabler

For years, satellite communication has been based solely on stand-alone proprietary technology, independent of the standardization efforts driving revenue growth for terrestrial mobile communication. Luckily, this is about to change. Soon, 5G NR signals will beam down from space and support terrestrial 5G mobile communication infrastructure. This will give satellites and other non-terrestrial networks a new and highly competitive edge as they become an essential factor in the offering of powerful, seamless connectivity to millions of customers anywhere on the planet. It also gives non-terrestrial communication companies the opportunity to take advantage of the large-scale economies in the terrestrial industry to lower their cost of user equipment and service prices to more competitive levels.

A new level of interoperability

By unifying 5G standardization of non-terrestrial and terrestrial technology, the barrier between different satellite systems will be eliminated, allowing end users to roam freely between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks of different operators. This will be one of the biggest advantages of 5G NR standardization as it becomes much easier for the terrestrial mobile communication industry to work with satellite operators and other non-terrestrial vendors and provide strong end-to-end service management as all parties are operating on the same 3GPP standard. To sum up: The 3GPP 5G NR standardization will allow the non-terrestrial communication industry to reach mass markets due to higher interoperability. The benefit of this is a huge increase in the number of potential customers and an opportunity to tap into a more developed, high-volume supply chain, saving development time and costs.

So, where are we now?

Most terrestrial network operators currently focus on delivering 5G services to areas currently covered by older cellular technologies. By the end of 2022, there were 229 commercial 5G terrestrial networks around the world, and the unique capabilities of non-terrestrial networks can drastically expand their reach. This is the reason why we are now seeing numerous public announcements related to the development and testing of 5G services via non-terrestrial networks. Especially concerning these types of use cases:

Broadband internet – High-speed, low-latency mobile broadband internet via satellite in remote and rural locations. This is typically done by satellites beaming the internet to a dish on the users’ roof, which then passes the signal onto a Wi-Fi router.

Direct-to-smartphone The first 5G NR-compatible smartphones have already hit the market, and in the coming years, many more will follow. As it is still early days, simple services like emergency messaging are the first on offer. But with the advance of 5G NR, new high-speed services will most certainly be launched.

But just as 5G technology in terrestrial networks needs to evolve from its current roll-out state to the full potential of gigabit speeds and millisecond latencies, non-terrestrial 5G technology must also follow its own evolutionary path to complete integration.

Easier said than done

What may be simple to achieve in a terrestrial network can be extremely complicated in a non-terrestrial network. For instance, how do you provide direct-to-smartphone connectivity from a satellite constellation? This is a real challenge due to factors like access to spectrum, link budgets, high doppler shifts, increase in latency due to interference from terrain, weather, and a range of other factors known to disrupt wireless networks.

But the efforts are worth it, because the value proposition of a 3GPP standardized 5G network is crystal clear: non-terrestrial networks can significantly strengthen the 5G experience where terrestrial networks cannot – particularly regarding mobility and mission-critical communications. By doing so, non-terrestrial networks represent a golden opportunity to extend 5G service coverage of enormously large areas where traditional terrestrial networks have limited reach or cannot operate feasibly.

A match made in Heaven

5G NR standardization is by far the most promising opportunity to create new business models involving both the terrestrial and non-terrestrial communications industries. Because non-terrestrial networks will not provide the same capacity as terrestrial systems, they are likely to be viewed as complementary rather than competing systems. This will undoubtedly lead many companies to join forces in the pursuit of mutual benefits. There are still technical challenges to overcome before seamless non-terrestrial and terrestrial network experiences can be achieved, but with the development of 3GPP 5G NR-compliant solutions, we will take huge steps in the right direction.

 

The Power of Connection | Introduction to 5G IoT and its Significance

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network of physical devices—from everyday household items to sophisticated industrial tools—embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies to connect and exchange data over the Internet. The advent of 5G networks has dramatically enhanced the potential and significance of IoT, promising to transform it into a universally connected and endlessly versatile ecosystem.

The integration of 5G with IoT is vital due to several key performance requirements. First, 5G networks offer massive connectivity, capable of supporting up to a million devices per square kilometer. This is crucial for IoT ecosystems, which often involve large-scale deployments of devices in areas such as smart cities or industrial complexes.

Second, low latency is another critical requirement for IoT in 5G networks. As many IoT applications—such as autonomous vehicles or real-time remote monitoring—depend on real-time data exchange, the ultra-low latency offered by 5G (as low as one millisecond) is a major advantage. Finally, energy efficiency is of paramount importance. Many IoT devices operate on battery power and are expected to function for long periods without requiring a recharge. 5G networks support IoT applications with low power consumption requirements, prolonging the battery life of these devices.

Beyond Connectivity | Exploring IoT Communication Technologies in 5G Networks

5G New Radio (NR) is the global standard for a unified, more capable 5G wireless air interface. It will play a significant role in meeting the diverse requirements of IoT applications in 5G networks. 5G NR offers superior connectivity, reduced latency, and increased energy efficiency, all of which are beneficial to IoT devices. Moreover, Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M, both part of the 3GPP standard, will continue to play crucial roles in the 5G era. NB-IoT is a low power wide area technology designed to enable efficient communication and long battery life for mass-distributed devices. Similarly, LTE-M is a type of low-power wide area network designed for IoT applications that need cellular connectivity. Furthermore, the integration of satellite communication for IoT connectivity is gaining traction. Satellites can extend IoT connectivity to remote, rural, and underserved areas that terrestrial networks may not reach, providing truly global coverage.

Extending Horizons | The Crucial Role of Non-Terrestrial Networks in Enabling 5G IoT Coverage

Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN), encompassing satellite and airborne platforms, play a vital role in expanding 5G IoT coverage. They extend IoT connectivity to remote and underserved areas, ensuring no device is out of reach. This is particularly important for global asset tracking and monitoring applications, where assets may be spread over vast geographical areas, including oceans and deserts. NTNs also ensure resilient IoT connectivity during disasters and emergencies. In scenarios where terrestrial network infrastructure is compromised—like during floods, earthquakes, or other catastrophic events—satellite or airborne networks can provide an alternative communication channel, ensuring the continuity of critical IoT services.

From Vision to Reality | Exploring the Exciting IoT Use Cases Enabled by 5G NTN

Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) coupled with 5G IoT capabilities offer unprecedented opportunities across various domains. Here are some of the promising use cases:

Remote Monitoring and Control of Industrial Facilities

With the power of 5G NTN, industries can remotely monitor and control their facilities, no matter how distant. For example, offshore oil and gas installations can benefit from real-time data exchange, facilitating continuous monitoring of operations, early detection of anomalies, and prompt troubleshooting. Similarly, remote mining sites can leverage this technology to enhance worker safety, operational efficiency, and environmental responsibility.

Asset Tracking and Management

The wide-area coverage provided by NTNs is a boon for asset tracking and management. Containers and cargo can be tracked across global shipping routes, providing accurate, real-time location updates and contributing to supply chain optimization. In vehicle fleet management, real-time tracking and data analysis can result in better routing, improved fuel efficiency, and enhanced safety.

Smart Agriculture and Precision Farming

The farming industry can benefit greatly from 5G NTN-powered IoT applications. Crop monitoring and irrigation control become increasingly efficient, as sensors can provide real-time data on soil moisture, weather conditions, and crop health. This information can then be used to adjust irrigation and fertilization schedules automatically, optimizing resource use. Additionally, livestock tracking and management are enhanced, allowing for the monitoring of animal health and location, reducing losses, and improving animal welfare.

Navigating the Landscape | Challenges and Opportunities in the Realm of 5G IoT and NTN

One of the main challenges in 5G IoT networks is scalability. As the IoT ecosystem grows, networks must handle connections from billions of devices, each transmitting data. Techniques for efficient device management and data handling at such a large scale are still being developed. Energy efficiency is another challenge. IoT devices often operate on battery power, so they need communication technologies that minimize energy consumption.

5G networks must find a balance between delivering high-performance connectivity and extending the battery life of IoT devices. Integrating terrestrial and satellite IoT systems presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The integration can extend IoT connectivity to remote areas and offer more robust and resilient networks. However, this requires overcoming technical challenges related to signal interference, latency, and handover mechanisms between terrestrial and satellite systems. Security and privacy concerns in 5G IoT are also paramount. With more devices connected, there are more potential entry points for cyberattacks. Ensuring robust security protocols and addressing privacy concerns will be crucial in gaining public trust and widespread adoption of 5G IoT.

Pioneering the Future | Emerging Trends and Technologies in 5G IoT and NTN

 

Integration of Edge Computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in IoT – One emerging trend is the integration of edge computing and AI in IoT applications. Edge computing allows data processing near the source, reducing latency, and AI can provide intelligent analysis and decision-making capabilities. This combination can greatly enhance IoT applications, from autonomous vehicles to smart factories.

Advanced IoT Communication Technologies – Advanced IoT communication technologies for NTN are also being developed. These technologies aim to improve the performance and efficiency of satellite communication, ensuring reliable IoT connectivity in remote and underserved areas.

Interoperability and Standardization – Interoperability and standardization efforts are crucial for seamless IoT connectivity. These efforts focus on developing common protocols and standards that enable devices and systems from different manufacturers to communicate effectively, facilitating the integration of terrestrial and satellite networks.

Unlocking Potential of 5G IoT and NTN

The integration of 5G, IoT, and NTN has transformative potential for various industries. From agriculture and logistics to environmental conservation and healthcare, these technologies can drive efficiency, innovation, and growth. Market forecasts anticipate significant growth in the 5G IoT and NTN sectors, indicating potential investment opportunities. The demand for reliable, high-speed connectivity and the increasing number of IoT devices are key factors driving this growth. In terms of future directions, continuous innovation is expected in 5G IoT and satellite communication. New technologies and solutions will continue to emerge, addressing current challenges and opening up new possibilities for connectivity and digital transformation. The future looks promising, with 5G IoT and NTN at the forefront of this exciting journey.

 

Reaching New Heights | An Introduction to Satellite Constellations

Satellite constellations represent an advanced network of satellites strategically distributed across different orbits to achieve comprehensive global coverage. They are designed to work together as an integrated system, overcome the limitations of single satellite networks, and play a crucial role in enhancing global communications. The structure of a satellite constellation depends primarily on the mission requirements, which may vary from Earth observation meteorological studies to telecommunications. In the context of telecommunications, they offer an important infrastructure that allows for high-speed data transfer, uninterrupted communication services, and extended connectivity.

Satellite constellations are generally classified into three categories based on their orbital altitude – Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Each of these constellation types has specific characteristics that impact network design and performance, thereby playing a crucial role in meeting the diverse communication needs of our connected world.

Satellite constellations are generally classified into three categories based on their orbital altitude – Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Each of these constellation types has specific characteristics that impact network design and performance, thereby playing a crucial role in meeting the diverse communication needs of our connected world.

Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) – GEO constellations are situated at an altitude of approximately 36,000 km above the Earth. Due to their high altitude, GEO satellites provide extensive coverage and are particularly beneficial for broadcast services. However, they suffer from high latency and do not cover the Polar Regions.

Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)MEO constellations are positioned between 2,000 and 36,000 km above the Earth. Satellites in MEO offer a balance between coverage area and latency. They are commonly used for navigation systems like GPS.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO)LEO constellations operate at altitudes below 2,000 km. Due to their close proximity to Earth, they offer lower latency and higher data transfer rates. This makes them ideal for providing broadband internet services, particularly in areas where terrestrial networks are not feasible or economical.

Design Principles of Satellite Constellations

The design of satellite constellations involves several critical considerations to optimize coverage, capacity, and latency. This process involves making informed decisions about the number of satellites, their orbits and altitudes, inclination, and spacing.

Number of Satellites – The number of satellites in a constellation is crucial in determining the coverage and capacity of the network. More satellites mean wider coverage and higher capacity, but it also increases the complexity and cost of the network.

Orbits and Altitudes – The choice of orbit and altitude significantly impacts the performance of the network. As discussed in the previous section, GEO, MEO, and LEO constellations each have their unique advantages and drawbacks concerning coverage, latency, and data rates.

Inclination – The inclination of the satellite orbits defines the latitude coverage of the constellation. For instance, a constellation with a higher inclination can cover higher latitudes, which is crucial for providing connectivity in Polar Regions.

Spacing – The spacing between the satellites in a constellation affects the network’s ability to handle traffic loads and maintain consistent service quality. Appropriate spacing is necessary to prevent signal interference between satellites and ensure seamless handover of signals.

While these design principles serve as a guide, it is also essential to acknowledge the trade-offs involved in these decisions. For instance, while increasing the number of satellites can enhance coverage and capacity, it can also lead to higher deployment and maintenance costs, increased signal interference, and more space debris. Therefore, achieving an optimal balance between these various factors is at the heart of effective satellite constellation design.

The Role of Satellite Constellations in Empowering 5G Networks

The dawn of the 5G era heralds a new phase for telecommunications, characterized by ultra-high-speed, low latency, and highly reliable connections. One of the key enablers of this transformative technology is satellite constellations, particularly those in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). LEO satellite constellations, due to their proximity to the Earth, are uniquely positioned to provide the low-latency and high-bandwidth connections that are integral to 5G. With round-trip times potentially as low as 10 milliseconds, these constellations can support real-time applications such as autonomous driving, remote surgery, and immersive augmented and virtual reality experiences. In addition to enabling high-performance connections, satellite constellations play a vital role in extending 5G coverage to underserved areas.

Terrestrial 5G networks, while capable of offering high data rates, are limited by geographical constraints. They struggle to deliver connectivity in remote, rural, and hard-to-reach locations, creating a digital divide. Satellite constellations can bridge this gap by delivering 5G services to these underserved regions, ensuring universal and inclusive connectivity. Moreover, satellite constellations enhance the resilience of 5G networks. In instances of terrestrial network failures due to natural disasters, cyberattacks, or other emergencies, satellite networks can provide a backup, ensuring the continuity of critical communication services. Finally, satellite constellations enable global Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. In the era of 5G, where massive machine-type communications become a reality, satellite constellations facilitate the connection of billions of IoT devices across the globe. This is particularly relevant for applications that require wide-area coverage, such as asset tracking, environmental monitoring, and smart agriculture.

Trailblazers in the Sky | Case Studies of Innovative Satellite Constellations

The concept of satellite constellations has moved from theory to practice, with several companies planning or already deploying their networks. In this section, we will delve into the case studies of existing and planned satellite constellations, including SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and OneWeb.

SpaceX Starlink

Spearheaded by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Starlink is one of the most ambitious LEO satellite constellations. As of July 2023, there are 4,519 Starlink satellites in orbit, of which 4,487 are operational. Starlink has said it eventually wants to send up to 42,000 satellites into space. The primary aim is to provide affordable, high-speed internet access to remote corners of the world. The constellation design and deployment strategy adopted by Starlink exemplifies the potential of LEO constellations in delivering 5G services.

Amazon Project Kuiper

Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to deploy a constellation of 3,236 LEO satellites. Much like Starlink, the primary goal of Project Kuiper is to provide broadband internet connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. Though still in the early stages, Project Kuiper represents a significant investment in satellite constellations and their role in expanding 5G networks.

OneWeb

OneWeb aims to establish a global broadband connectivity network through a constellation of 648 LEO satellites. After facing bankruptcy and a subsequent comeback, OneWeb has made significant strides in deploying its constellation. OneWeb’s efforts illustrate the potential of satellite constellations to contribute to the 5G ecosystem and the challenges associated with such ambitious projects.

These case studies offer valuable insights into the design, implementation, and performance of satellite constellations. They also underscore their potential in shaping the future of 5G networking, highlighting the transformative role these constellations could play in global connectivity.

Challenges and Opportunities in Satellite Constellation Network Design

Designing satellite constellation networks is a complex endeavor, marked by numerous technical and non-technical challenges. Among these are interference management, regulatory considerations, cost factors, and sustainability issues like space debris.

Interference Management – Interference management is a significant technical challenge, as the simultaneous operation of thousands of satellites can result in inter-satellite and satellite-to-ground communication interference. Advanced signal processing techniques and dynamic beamforming are necessary to manage this issue.

Regulations and Licensing Requirements – On the non-technical side, satellite operators face a complex web of international regulations and licensing requirements, which vary across jurisdictions. The high cost of deploying and maintaining a satellite network is another challenge, which often requires significant private investment and/or public funding.

Space Debris and Long-Term Sustainability – The rapid increase in the number of satellites in orbit raises concerns about space debris and the long-term sustainability of space activities. Measures to mitigate the creation of debris and to ensure the end-of-life deorbiting of satellites are essential considerations in constellation design.

Despite these challenges, satellite constellations present immense opportunities. They can expand global connectivity, particularly in remote and underserved areas. These constellations can enhance network resilience, acting as a backup in case of terrestrial network failures. Moreover, with 5G, they can support advanced applications requiring high bandwidth and low latency.

Emerging Trends and Technologies in Satellite Constellation Networks

The field of satellite constellation networks is ripe with emerging trends and technologies. A significant trend is the integration of satellite and terrestrial networks, enabling seamless global connectivity.

Miniaturization of Satellites – On the technological front, advances in satellite technology, such as the miniaturization of satellites (CubeSats and NanoSats), are making satellite constellations more economically viable. These technological advancements are making it possible to deploy large constellations of small, lightweight satellites, reducing launch costs.

Software-Defined Networking in Space – The advent of software-defined networking in space is revolutionizing how satellite constellations are managed. This enables dynamic allocation of resources, adaptive routing, and flexible payload configurations, thereby enhancing network performance and resilience.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – Artificial intelligence and machine learning are having a profound impact on network design and management. They are being used to optimize constellation design, predict and mitigate interference, manage traffic, and enhance cybersecurity.

A Bright Future for Satellite Constellation Networks

As we conclude this chapter, the key takeaway is the growing importance of satellite constellations in the era of 5G. Despite the technical and non-technical challenges, the potential benefits of these constellations are enormous. Moving forward, we can expect continued growth and innovation in this field. The integration of satellite and terrestrial networks will likely become more seamless, driven by advances in technology and standardization efforts. Meanwhile, trends like software-defined networking in space and the use of AI and machine learning will further enhance the capability and flexibility of satellite constellations. Beyond the technological advancements, the societal impacts and business opportunities are vast. Satellite constellations have the potential to bridge the digital divide, boost socio-economic development, enable new services, and create new markets. This makes it an exciting and rewarding field, both to study and to be a part of.

Telecommunications technology has progressed incredibly fast, ever since Marconi fathered radio access technology, all the way to modern broadband mobile communications serving high-density areas. Space hasn’t grown unaware of this technological progress that happened in the last century. Radio links have been, for obvious reasons, the preferred mechanism for transferring data from satellites to the ground. On the satellite communications (SATCOM) front, the spectrum exploitation level of sophistication is very high, using multiple-access techniques such as frequency-division multiplexing or time-division multiplexing. It is truly fascinating how many users can be served with a single SATCOM satellite and with only one parabolic reflector. Now, talking about mobile communications, it goes without mentioning that the significant progress, bridging over generations, has brought better capabilities, and the trend is far from being over. Initially, the first two mobile comms generations aimed to ensure the efficient transmission of voice information. With newer generations, more digital technologies, bandwidth-efficient modulation schemes for a smarter use of an increasingly contested spectrum proliferated, allowing faster data rates, more secure radio access technology and a breadth of protocol layers ready to carry internet protocol (IP) datagrams. Among other benefits, this allowed the end users to enjoy the possibility of having access from their smartphones to the same services and applications they previously only enjoyed on their computers. How? By seamlessly merging mobile and global networks, and that’s not the end of the story.

5G keeps evolving

The fifth generation of deployed mobile communications — or 5G—has upped the game in terms of capabilities if compared to previous generations. A key milestone was achieved when a new radio-access technology known as NR (New Radio) was devised. The ruling innovative factor in defining a brand-new radio access technology meant that NR, unlike previous evolutions, was not restricted by a need to retain backward compatibility. This allowed for rolling out a set of three key use cases.

Enhanced Mobile BroadBand (eMBB)

eMBB which appears as the most straightforward evolution from previous generations, enables larger data volumes and further enhanced user experience.

Ultra-Reliable and Low-Latency Communication (URLLC)

URLLC with services targeted to ensure very low latency and high reliability. Examples hereof are traffic safety, smart cities, automatic control, power grid, and factory automation (Industry 4.0)

Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC)

mMTC provides services that are characterized by a massive number of devices, such as remote sensors, actuators, and monitoring equipment. Key requirements for such services include ultra-low device cost and low power consumption, allowing for extended device battery life of up to at least several years. Typically, each of these devices consumes and generates only a relatively small amount of data; thus, support for high data rates is of less importance.

Although 5G was deployed several years ago (Release 15), it is still growing strong and continues evolving. The newest evolution of 5G (Release 18>) is called 5G Advanced, and it is meant to add support for new applications and use cases. 5G Advanced is expected to bring significant enhancements around smarter network management by incorporating AI/ML techniques for beam management, load balancing, channel state information feedback enhancement, improvements in positioning accuracy, and user equipment network slicing. 5G Advanced plans to incorporate low-latency audio and video streaming services aimed at Extended reality (XR), along with a more energy-efficient use of network resources and Deterministic Networking (DetNet) capabilities to ensure deterministic data paths for real-time applications with extremely low data loss rates and packet delay variation.

What is more, recent releases of 5G have made significant progress on integrating satellite communications with 5G NR techniques called “non-terrestrial network”, or NTN. The study of non-terrestrial networks includes identifying NTN scenarios, architectures, and use cases by considering the integration of satellite access in the 5G network, including roaming, broadcast/multicast, secure private networks, etc. Therefore, the synergy between satellites and 5G is beyond speculation; in today’s reality, it is a tangible scenario where space technology and mobile communications augment each other.

Watch this space for what’s next: 6G

Whilst 5G Advanced is about adapting the already established generation for new incremental use cases, 6G is designed for the human digital needs of the next ten years and beyond. The sixth generation is already in the making, coordinated by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the standards development organization behind the 6G initial research of enabling technologies, the definition of the requirements, the technical steering, and the identification of use cases. This ongoing activity will span for the next half-decade or so, refining the architecture and starting off implementation. The core driving factors for 6G will revolve around enhancing human communication, including immersive experience, telepresence, multimodal collaboration, and interaction. 6G will also aim to enhance machine communication, with a focus on autonomous machines and vehicles capable of sensing their surrounding environment in real-time (network as a sensor). 6G will provide key enabling services, such as hyper-precise positioning, mapping, and smart health.

Will sky be the limit for 6G?

Satellites carrying data hubs and humans carrying smartphones have more in common than one can grasp at a glance. Both are moving nodes in adaptive, time-variant networks. Humans move around cities following rather complex adaptive patterns, while satellites describe more deterministic paths in orbit. By choosing their orbiting geometry carefully, connected constellations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) can be deployed to achieve global coverage with low latency and smaller propagation losses. This is crucially important for today’s world, where almost half of the world’s population still lives in rural and remote areas that do not have basic connectivity services, according to the World Bank data. Non-terrestrial networks can provide affordable and reliable broadband services for areas where mobile operators do not find commercial feasibility in building terrestrial networks. What is more, by integrating different non-terrestrial network systems together, such as LEO satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, and high-altitude platforms, non-terrestrial networks can be flexibly implemented and thus, connect people through various devices such as smartphones and laptops, help sense and monitor critical infrastructure in a secure and power-efficient manner, and more. Suffice to say, for mobile networks, the sky is not the limit. The solutions to reinforce the mission of helping humans and machines interact and exchange data seamlessly are ready and waiting for their turn to shoot for the stars. Small, cost-effective satellites have an immense potential to expand universal coverage, close the digital divide around the world and benefit global society and the environment. At ReOrbit, we offer ready-to-go space systems and avionics to streamline data flow in space for flexible and timely missions at any orbit. Join us on a journey of simplifying connectivity in space and move your data fast with ReOrbit.

In recent years, the connectivity demand in wireless communication has increased towards connection everywhere and anytime. This is a challenging situation for terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure providers that they cannot fulfill on their own. Therefore, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standardization organization started to study the integration of satellites as an integral part of the 5G ecosystem involving both cellular and satellite stakeholders in 2017s. The added value by satellites as part of the access technology mix for 5G is becoming clear, especially for mission-critical and other applications where ubiquitous coverage is crucial. Non-terrestrial networks (NTN) can broaden service delivery to unserved or underserved areas by complementing and extending terrestrial networks. In this article, we will elaborate on the current standardization of NTN in 5G and further detail the architecture and research challenges toward 6G-NTN.

Are Non-Terrestrial Networks already part of 5G?

The satellite direct access with 5G has been accepted to the roadmap in the cellular standardization organization 3GPP. The use of satellite-based networks to provide connections to users is also referred to as 5G-NTN (Non-Terrestrial Networks) in the 3GPP community. These so-called non-terrestrial networks cover satellites as well as airborne vehicles, also called High Altitude Platforms (HAPs). From an architectural point of view, satellites either act as backhaul for base stations on the ground or provide direct 5G satellite access to end-user equipment. The satellite employs either a transparent (bent pipe) payload or, in the future, 3GPP releases a regenerative payload (potentially carrying a 5G base station) and can be placed into Geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO), or Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The airborne vehicles are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) operating at a height between 8 and 50 km. A transparent satellite works as a relay between the UEs and the 5G base station on the gateway side of the ground. In contrast, a regenerative satellite acts as a flying gNB, with a backhaul link to the 5G core network on the ground. 

After two study items, the 3GPP Radio Access Network (RAN) working group specified the extension of 5G New Radio to support Non-Terrestrial Networks as part of Release 17 with contributions from Fraunhofer IIS. The specifications cover a frequency range from two to 30 GHz and GEO, MEO, and LEO satellite constellations with implicit compatibility with HAPs. Two terminal types for direct access to satellites are considered, either smartphone type or Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) with directional antennas (cf. Figure 1). To complement the 5G New Radio broadband standard for satellites, 3GPP specified the adaptations of the LTE-based technologies NB-IoT and eMTC to support low data rate use cases with direct access to satellites.

5G NR direct access to satellites by VSAT terminals and handheld devices (Source: Fraunhofer IIS) Update picture

For the first time, satellite communication with direct access is supported by the formerly terrestrial-only 3GPP standard. The satellite industry is gaining more and more interest in this initial standard, and the goal is to deploy non-terrestrial networks as part of 5G from approximately 2025 in order to meet the challenges of mobile network operators in terms of reachability, availability, and resiliency. At Fraunhofer IIS, we pay particular attention to enabling early technology evaluations of the new 5G-NTN standard, based on extensions of the open source software OpenAirInterface, e.g., in projects like ESA 5G-GOA, 5G-LEO and with Kymeta/Intelsat.

What are the Technology Developments of Telecom Satellites enabling 6G?

Telecom satellites have constantly evolved over the years, and further innovations are highly beneficial for 6G networks. GEO satellites improved the total system throughput over the past years with the introduction of high throughput satellites (HTS) and even very high throughput satellites (VHTS). This new class of satellites achieves total throughputs of more than 100 Gbit/s in the case of HTS and more than 1 Tbit/s in the case of VHTS per satellite, thanks to transparent digital processing payloads and flexible antenna technology.  Another innovation is LEO constellations, which have been already deployed in the 1990s with Iridium and Globalstar as one of the first companies with the vision of worldwide coverage. 

The Starlink constellation by SpaceX already has more than 1000 satellites in place and is planning to increase the number to up to 12,000. Such quantities give room for a cost-efficient mass production of these satellites, including application-specific components. Further, using LEO constellations, the latency of satellite systems could be improved dramatically compared to a GEO solution, down to 20 ms. Unfortunately, Starlink is not designed for 5G direct access, but we see the need for new constellations to be ready for 5G-Advanced and 6G direct access.

In addition to the GEO and LEO satellite improvements, other types of orbits might be envisioned for future networks, such as MEO, highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and very low earth orbit (VLEO) below 500 km to reach even lower latency below 20 ms. Nevertheless, this orbit suffers from higher atmospheric pressure, leading to velocity degradation and, in consequence, altitude degradation if no thrusters are used. 

Independent of the orbit, most of the innovations are based on the evolution of the payload in combination with the antenna. Satellite payloads are increasingly equipped with flexible onboard processors (OBPs) for software-defined payloads enabling future networks, like the “Iridium Next” satellite generation. For GEO satellites with high bandwidth and throughput, the processing is mostly based on a transparent basis, called digital transparent OBP, for channelization without onboard re-encoding of the data stream, e.g., for beam adjustments or routing decisions. LEO payloads can be assumed as an integral part of the network, enabling processing of lower layer (e.g. a 5G gNB distributed unit), higher layer (e.g., entire gNB), and network functions (e.g., edge computing) of 5G and 6G networks. A more complex type of OBP with more processing capability is needed to perform signal regeneration in addition to routing decisions. For LEO, the problem of optimized routing between different satellites using the inter-satellite links (ISLs) needs to be solved. The Fraunhofer On-Board Processer (FOBP) is an example of such a software-defined payload and enables bidirectional broadband communication with different wireless transmission standards in Ka-Band frequency.

(optionally: picture of Fraunhofer On-Board Processor)

Improvements in satellite antennas support analog or digital beamforming, e.g., with phased array antennas, and have been successfully deployed in orbit to support coverage planning similar to cellular networks. Other technologies have experienced a constant evolution, e.g., beam switching/beam hopping. Especially beam hopping is necessary to mitigate the limitation of the available power per beam and to scale capacity to different beams/regions. In both terrestrial and space domains, more flexibility, thanks to more available processing, is the key, thus, we expect this evolution to continue. 

CubeSat satellites represent a new class of nanosatellites with a mass between up to 10 kg and standardized dimensions in the shape of a cube with the smallest version 1U of 11 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm. The electrical power of nanosatellites is in the range of a few multiples of 10 W for the whole satellite with payload, satellite management, communication and control. So, the link budget for wireless communication is difficult to close at all or only with very low spectral efficiency, which is not suitable for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) type of applications with 5G, but with a high potential for massive machine type communications (mMTC) like IoT-NTN technologies. 

How will Non-Terrestrial Networks be integrated in 6G?

In 6G, an evolution towards a more heterogeneous network infrastructure is expected, with an increasing integration level of various height layers located on the ground and at air and space levels. A major increase in integration is expected between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks, with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and LEO satellites playing a major role in extending coverage and offloading traffic. Additionally, the evolution of Micro- and Nano-satellites is beneficial for massive IoT use cases in 6G. NTN can easily solve coverage problems, and thus a truly global connectivity can be realized.

In general, three different altitude layers of network platforms can be assumed – ground-based platforms, airborne platforms, and spaceborne platforms:

Figure: 3D architecture of 6G networks (Source: Fraunhofer IIS) Update picture

Further, the 6G ground-based platforms will be extended by moving base stations (buses, trucks, trains, etc.), providing connectivity either directly or via integrated access and backhaul or relaying to other users. In the airborne layer, we expect to see a huge number of different platforms, e.g., Drones for delivery services, HAPs, Airplanes, Air Taxis, and autonomous UAVs. At the space level, a huge variety of different platforms could be envisioned, starting with the more familiar GEO and LEO satellites but also MEO, HEO, or VLEO. In addition to the heterogeneity, higher dynamics will be added to the network, introduced by the motion of the different network elements, requiring an ad-hoc integration of new platforms, e.g., for a limited time only. 

This flexible, heterogeneous, and dynamic 6G network architecture, including airborne and spaceborne platforms, imposes several research challenges like spectrum and interference coordination and flexibility of the 6G radio access, demanding optimizations with AI due to the increasing complexity. The 6G-SKY consortium, including Fraunhofer IIS, addresses the heterogeneous and dynamic 6G architecture with terrestrial airbourne and spacebourne network nodes.

What are the further Research Challenges towards 6G-NTN?

Coexistence and spectrum sharing are another challenge in future 6G network architectures. The coexistence of LTE/NR networks or NB-IoT/eMBB devices are examples of scenarios where spectrum-sharing techniques have been addressed by 3GPP. Nonetheless, this has not yet included NTN. Since the LEO mega-constellations are poised to operate in the same band as incumbent GEO operators, spectrum reuse and interference avoidance have been explored within the satellite community. However, the solutions so far have been restricted to more traditional methods of issuing primary and secondary licenses and do not incorporate dynamic spectrum-sharing methodologies for coexistence in 6G networks. The ITU and other national regulatory bodies play in this area, and during the next World Radio Conference in 2023, there are several frequency bands that have been identified for compatibility studies and sharing on a co-primary or secondary basis, some of them including NTN. 

Despite this, several unlicensed frequency bands allow different users to access the spectrum on an opportunistic basis. For several CubeSat missions and IoT accesses in NTN, these unlicensed spectrum bands can be beneficial. Further analysis of efficient and fair spectrum sharing in unlicensed bands is necessary specifically for 6G NTN waveforms.

Energy efficiency will play an important role in 6G. Despite the benefits of the overall power consumption of a terrestrial cellular network and power-efficient end devices like IoT, energy-efficient waveforms are relevant for satellites as well. Satellite systems are sensitive to the Peak-to-Average-Power Ratio of a transmission waveform because they are power-limited and need to operate as close as possible to the maximum output power. Especially, the 5G downlink is not optimized for energy efficiency, and an optimized waveform to support an efficient transmission of 6G over satellites would be beneficial.

Scalability of the RF carrier bandwidth is another crucial point to enable various deployments of the wireless access technology in NTN, which suffer from the available frequency bands and especially the limited transmission power of satellites. So, the increasing bandwidth of the cellular standard generations limits the usability of 5G-NTN for certain frequency bands and types of satellites. As an example, using 6G for CubeSats needs flexible waveforms with lower minimum bandwidth than in 5G.

Summary and Outlook

Like any generation of mobile communications, the 5G-NTN technology will undergo continuous development and gain significant relevance for industry in the coming years towards 6G. Non-Terrestrial Networks will be an integral part of 6G to provide global connectivity with seamless coverage. The initial introduction of NTN in the 5G system is an important step for the establishment of a global standard for integrated scenarios with terrestrial and Non-Terrestrial networks. However, a much more flexible approach to integrating dynamic network elements such as UAVs, (V)LEO satellites, and small satellites is required compared to NTN in 5G. Satellite technology innovations like on-board processing will enable an extended integration in 6G and have to be considered in the initial phase of 6G studies. Introducing flexibility in the 6G core network and the radio access network is quite important to support different NTN deployment scenarios, Non-Terrestrial network elements as well as coexistence scenarios with spectrum sharing. 

The pace at which vehicles of all kinds are being connected is remarkable; for example, there are more than 470 million connected cars estimated to be on roads by 2025, up from 237 million in 2021. Many more types of vehicles will add to that number — from over-the-road trucks and agricultural vehicles to drones, construction equipment, and others.

The market for telematics — the equipment installed in vehicles enabling the collection and transmission of real-time data — is projected to grow from $73.4 billion in 2022 to $334 billion by 2032.

The Internet of Things (IoT) plays a pivotal role in the connectivity of smart vehicles. IoT-enabled cars can provide real-time weather updates and communicate with roadside infrastructure, such as traffic lights, road signs, and toll booths. This allows for real-time traffic information, optimized traffic signal timing, electronic toll collection, and alerts about road conditions or construction. Additionally, IoT connectivity allows manufacturers to remotely diagnose vehicle issues, schedule maintenance, and push software updates. Vehicle monitoring tools, such as tire sensors and trailer tracking devices for large trucks as well as fleet management and owner-level enhancements, all require constant connectivity anywhere. That makes cellular networks’ lack of ubiquitous coverage an issue while existing satellite options are prohibitively expensive and have limited capacity and coverage. E-Space’s low Earth orbit satellite constellation is being designed to enable connected IoT devices virtually anywhere, ensuring ubiquitous coverage whether the vehicle is in the city, the suburbs or the open road far from reliable cell service.​ The mini terminals the company is developing can be used in almost any application and, importantly, are highly affordable.

Sample Examples

As smart vehicles — cars, trucks, and many others — become more common, it’s worth a look at just how some of these advancements will work and what problems they’ll help solve. Some examples:

Autonomous Vehicle Connectivity – From over-the-road trucks, passenger cars, and delivery vehicles on land to unmanned boats at sea or UAVs in the sky, connected IoT sensors will be a base requirement for it all. Operators of all kinds will need highly reliable, ubiquitous connectivity that works in cities and in rural areas either as a replacement or to augment cellular networks.

Trailer Tracking and Monitoring – Real-time awareness of tractor-trailer locations, operating conditions, tire pressure, and more results in fewer breakdowns and greater efficiency for the fleet.​

Software Updates – IoT provides a secure and reliable way to deliver updates over the air (OTA). This will allow vehicle makers to fix bugs, add new features, and improve the performance of vehicles without needing to take them to a dealership or fleet center.

Emergency Services – Sending accident alerts and location details can mean the difference between life and death.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) Communication – This technology enables vehicles to exchange critical safety information in real-time, including data about vehicle speed, direction, braking status, and more. V2V can reduce road fatalities and other incidents by anticipating potential hazards to prevent accidents.

Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication – V2I technology allows vehicles to communicate with things such as traffic signals, road signs, and smart traffic-management systems. The result can be smoother traffic flow, optimized routing, and reduced congestion. Real-time traffic updates and alternative route suggestions also save time and fuel.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – Connected smart vehicles equipped with ADAS use cameras, radar, Lidar and other sensors to assist drivers in making safer decisions on the road. These include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring — all of which act together as a safety net to help drivers avoid collisions.

Environmental Impact

While safety, convenience, and efficiency are important considerations for the connected vehicle, it’s hard to overstate the positive impact on the environment this technology enables. Optimized routes and traffic flow reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle automation can also change the need for individual parking spaces — transforming land use — and lead to less personalized driving and more automated ride-share and shuttle usage.

Similar advantages for the environment can be realized by the millions of off-road vehicles in use around the world, alongside potentially significant cost savings for the companies operating them. Finally, excess emissions are often driven by inefficiency in transportation – yet with connected vehicles, data-driven insights, and real-time monitoring can enable optimized routes, fuel efficiency, and maintenance, drastically reducing excess emissions and contributing to a greener and more sustainable future for transportation. Smart vehicles powered by satellite-connected IoT devices are still a nascent field. However, the steps made today will be a big step forward in revolutionizing transportation efficiency, safety, connectivity, and sustainability, paving the way for advanced autonomous driving and seamless navigation on a global scale.

Introduction

In the rapidly evolving realm of satellite technology, the impact and advancements of various companies and projects are reshaping communication and connectivity across the globe. From Starlink’s ambitious satellite internet constellation to the strategic joint venture of Eutelsat/OneWeb, each initiative is a testament to the dynamic nature of space technology and its applications. Projects like Amazon’s Project Kuiper, SES’s global satellite operations, and Viasat’s diversified satellite services further illustrate the industry’s commitment to advancing global communications. Similarly, longstanding entities like Intelsat and Telesat continue to innovate, while Iridium’s unique approach and EchoStar’s focused services demonstrate the versatility of satellite technology. Boeing Satellites, with its extensive history in satellite construction, rounds out this comprehensive overview of key players and projects in the satellite industry, each contributing uniquely to telecommunications, media, government, and more.

Starlink

Starlink is a satellite internet constellation operated by American aerospace company SpaceX, providing coverage to over 60 countries as of October 2023. It also aims for global mobile phone service after 2023. SpaceX started launching Starlink satellites in 2019. As of August 2023, it consists of over 5,000 mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which communicate with designated ground transceivers. Nearly 12,000 satellites are planned to be deployed, with a possible later extension to 42,000. SpaceX announced reaching more than 1 million subscribers in December 2022, 1.5 million subscribers in May 2023, and 2 million subscribers in September 2023. It has had a key role in the Russo-Ukrainian War. The SpaceX satellite development facility in Redmond, Washington houses the Starlink research, development, manufacturing and orbit control facilities. In May 2018, SpaceX estimated the cost of designing, building and deploy the constellation was estimated to be at least US$10 billion (equivalent to US$10.73 billion in 2021). In January 2017 SpaceX expected more than $30 billion in revenue by 2025 from its satellite constellation, while revenues from its launch business were expected to reach $5 billion.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, education, healthcare, public safety, government, business
  • Satellite Types: LEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, education, healthcare, public safety, government, business

Eutelsat/OneWeb

Eutelsat/OneWeb is a joint venture between Eutelsat Communications and OneWeb. The joint venture will combine Eutelsat’s geostationary (GEO) satellite fleet with OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation to provide a global network of satellite-based connectivity services and will be headquartered in Paris, France. It will be led by a combined management team from Eutelsat and OneWeb and a combined workforce of over 1,000 employees that will operate in over 20 countries.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise
  • Satellite Types: GEO, LEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise

Project Kuiper

Project Kuiper is Amazon’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation. Its mission is to bridge the digital divide by providing fast, affordable broadband to communities unserved or underserved by traditional communications technologies. Project Kuiper is still under development, but Amazon has already secured approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch and operate a constellation of up to 3,236 satellites. Kuiper was announced in 2019, and Amazon has been investing heavily in the project ever since. The company has built a new manufacturing facility in Redmond, Washington, where it is producing the Kuiper satellites. Amazon has also contracted with United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Arianespace to launch the satellites.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, education, healthcare, public safety, government, business
  • Satellite Types: LEO
  • Spectrum Used:Ka-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, education, healthcare, public safety, government, business

SES

SES is a global satellite operator and the first to deliver a differentiated and scalable GEO-MEO offering worldwide, with over 50 satellites in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) and 20 in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). They provide satellite communications services to broadcasters, content and internet service providers, mobile and fixed network operators, governments and institutions, and businesses worldwide.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, transportation, logistics, government and defense
  • Satellite Types: GEO, MEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band, L-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, transportation, logistics, government and defense

Viasat

Viasat, founded in 1986, is a global communications company that provides high-speed internet, streaming video, and mobile satellite services to over 12 million subscribers in over 70 countries. Viasat’s satellite fleet includes a mix of geostationary (GEO), highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Viasat’s satellites provide a wide range of services, including broadband internet, streaming video, mobile satellite services, and government and military communications.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise
  • Satellite Types: GEO, HEO, LEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band, Ku-band, L-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise

Intelsat

Intelsat was founded in 1964 and is one of the oldest and most experienced satellite operators in the world. The company is headquartered in Luxembourg City and has offices around the world. It operates a fleet of 55 geostationary (GEO) satellites and provides broadband internet, video broadcasting, and mobile satellite services to customers around the world.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise
  • Satellite Types: GEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise

Telesat

Telesat was founded in 1969 and is one of the oldest and successful satellite operators in the world. The company is headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, and has offices around the world. Telesat operates a fleet of 15 geostationary (GEO) satellites and is currently developing a new LEO satellite constellation called Lightspeed. It provides broadband internet, video broadcasting, and mobile satellite services to customers around the world.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise
  • Satellite Types: GEO, LEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise

Iridium

Iridium is a global satellite communications company founded in 1991 and launched its first satellite in 1997. The company is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, and has offices around the world. It operates a fleet of 66 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and provides voice and data services to customers around the world.

  • Industries Supported: Government and public safety, business and enterprise, media and broadcasting, transportation and logistics
  • Satellite Types: LEO
  • Spectrum Used: L-band
  • Services Offered: Government and public safety, business and enterprise, media and broadcasting, transportation and logistics

EchoStar

EchoStar, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, stands as a prominent American provider of satellite communication and internet services through its two main segments: Hughes Network Systems and EchoStar Satellite Services. Hughes Network Systems delivers satellite broadband internet to residential and business entities across North America and Europe, notably through its flagship service, HughesNet, which ensures high-speed internet access in areas lacking reliable traditional broadband networks. On the other hand, EchoStar Satellite Services, operating a fleet of 10 GEO satellites, offers vital satellite video distribution, data communications, and backhaul services to a diverse clientele, including media, broadcast organizations, and government service providers. Since its pioneering steps in 1987, being the first to apply for a direct broadcast satellite license from the FCC, EchoStar has navigated through significant milestones, including launching its first DBS satellite in 1995, initiating the DISH Network in 1996, and spinning off the DISH Network business in 2008.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise
  • Satellite Types: GEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, government and public safety, business and enterprise

Boeing Satellites

Boeing Satellites, a division of Boeing, specializes in designing, constructing, and launching satellites for a diverse clientele, including government entities, commercial operators, and satellite companies. Renowned for crafting high-quality, reliable satellites utilized across various applications, Boeing Satellites plays a pivotal role in communication, navigation, Earth observation, and government and defense sectors. Their communication satellites, encompassing GEO, LEO, and MEO satellites, facilitate broadband internet, video broadcasting, and mobile satellite services. The division also constructs navigation satellites utilized in industries like transportation and logistics, and Earth observation satellites that monitor environmental and climatic conditions, aiding sectors like agriculture and forestry. Furthermore, Boeing Satellites develops satellites for government and defense applications, serving agencies like the United States Department of Defense and NASA, and supporting functions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

  • Industries Supported: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, transportation, logistics, government and defense
  • Satellite Types: GEO, LEO, MEO
  • Spectrum Used: Ka-band, Ku-band, C-band, L-band
  • Services Offered: Telecommunications, media and broadcasting, transportation, logistics, government and defense

Conclusion

The landscape of the satellite industry, as illustrated by the achievements and goals of these diverse organizations, showcases a blend of innovation, strategic partnerships, and technological breakthroughs. From SpaceX’s Starlink providing unprecedented internet access, to the synergistic fusion of Eutelsat and OneWeb, and the ambitious visions of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, each initiative is redefining what is possible in global connectivity. Companies like SES, Viasat, Intelsat, Telesat, and Iridium continue to push the boundaries of satellite communication, while EchoStar and Boeing Satellites exemplify the fusion of legacy and innovation. These developments not only highlight the advancements in satellite technology but also underscore the growing significance of space-based services in addressing contemporary challenges and shaping the future of global communication.

Introduction to Security and Privacy in 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks

The advent of 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) ushers in an era of unprecedented connectivity, enabling high-speed, low-latency communication across the globe. However, along with the potential benefits, this also brings forth significant challenges related to security and privacy. Security and privacy are paramount to successfully deploying and operating 5G NTN, as these networks will carry a vast amount of sensitive data, ranging from personal information to crucial business data. Therefore, protecting this data from unauthorized access and breaches is paramount.

Key vulnerabilities in 5G NTN include its wide geographical coverage, complexity, and heterogeneity of network elements. Moreover, the inherent characteristics of wireless transmission make it susceptible to various threats, such as signal interception and interference. Furthermore, the global nature of 5G NTN makes it challenging to implement a consistent security policy due to variations in regulations and standards across different countries. To address these challenges, it is essential to develop and implement robust security measures that protect the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of data and ensure the network’s resilience against various threats. This involves adopting advanced cryptographic techniques, secure network protocols, intrusion detection systems, and other cybersecurity technologies.

Security Challenges in 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks

The promise of global coverage and ubiquitous connectivity of 5G NTN also brings forth an array of security threats and challenges that must be addressed effectively.

Signal JammingOne of the significant threats is signal jamming, where malicious entities disrupt the communication between the satellite and the ground station by emitting interfering signals. This could severely impact the performance and reliability of the network.

SpoofingSpoofing is another major threat wherein attackers fake the identity of a legitimate network element to deceive users or other network elements, potentially gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data or causing service disruptions.

Eavesdropping | Signal InterceptionEavesdropping or signal interception is also a major concern in 5G NTN due to the open nature of wireless communication. Attackers can potentially intercept and decode the signals transmitted between satellites and users, thereby gaining access to the data being transmitted.

Cyber-attacks on Critical Infrastructure and ServicesLastly, as more critical infrastructure and services rely on 5G NTN, these networks become attractive targets for cyber-attacks. Attackers may aim to disrupt network operations, compromise network security, or cause damage to the satellite infrastructure.

Addressing these security threats and challenges requires a holistic approach, combining robust technical solutions with effective regulatory policies and user awareness. Only through such comprehensive efforts can we ensure the security and resilience of 5G NTN.

Addressing Privacy Concerns in 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks

Privacy in 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) is a major concern that is equally as important as securing the network against cyber-attacks. With the vast amount of data being transmitted over these networks, there is a significant risk of personal and sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.

Data LeakageOne significant privacy concern is data leakage. Given the ubiquitous coverage and the heterogeneity of 5G NTN, data could potentially be exposed at various points in the network. This could occur during data transmission between satellites, between satellites and ground stations, or when data is stored at these stations.

Tracking User Activities – Tracking user activities is another crucial privacy issue. Since satellites in a 5G NTN will have a comprehensive view of the network, they can potentially track the location and activities of individual users. Without proper privacy measures, this could lead to significant privacy intrusions.

Addressing these privacy concerns requires robust policies and technological solutions. This includes implementing strong data protection measures such as data anonymization and pseudonymization. Moreover, using privacy-preserving technologies like differential privacy can help ensure that aggregated data does not reveal individual user information.

Security Solutions for 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks

Securing 5G NTN against various threats requires a layered approach incorporating multiple security solutions.

Encryption ProtocolsEncryption protocols form the first line of defense in network security. By encrypting data before transmission, it ensures that even if the data is intercepted, it cannot be understood without the decryption key.

Cryptographic TechniquesAdvanced cryptographic techniques, including public key infrastructure (PKI) and quantum cryptography, can be used to enhance the security of data transmission in 5G NTN.

Handover ProcessesSecure handover processes are also critical to ensuring the security of 5G NTN. As user equipment moves between different coverage areas, the handover process must be secured to prevent any potential attacks during this transition. This involves authenticating the network elements involved in the handover and ensuring the integrity of the data being transferred.

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)Intrusion detection systems (IDS) play a vital role in identifying potential threats and breaches in the network. By continuously monitoring network traffic, these systems can detect abnormal patterns and raise alerts, allowing for quick responses to potential threats.

AI/ML Enhanced Network SecurityFurthermore, advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can be leveraged to enhance network security. These technologies can help in the proactive detection of threats, predictive analysis of potential vulnerabilities, and automation of response mechanisms. Overall, ensuring the security of 5G NTN is a complex task that requires the integration of various security technologies, as well as ongoing monitoring and maintenance to adapt to evolving threats.

Future Trends and Research Directions | In Securing 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks

As we continue to advance into the era of 5G NTN, several emerging trends and research directions are expected to shape the landscape of security and privacy. One key trend is the increasing use of AI and machine learning in security. These technologies can be used to detect and respond to threats more quickly and accurately, as well as to predict future vulnerabilities. Another area of research is quantum cryptography. With the potential to provide near-unbreakable encryption, it could significantly enhance the security of 5G NTN. However, the practical implementation of quantum cryptography in satellite networks is still a challenge that requires further research. In terms of privacy, research is ongoing in technologies such as homomorphic encryption and secure multi-party computation, which can allow the processing of encrypted data, thereby preserving privacy while still enabling the benefits of data analysis.

To conclude, security and privacy are critical to the successful implementation of 5G NTN. As these networks become more prevalent, the challenges in maintaining security and privacy will become increasingly complex. However, with ongoing research and international cooperation, we can develop robust solutions to address these challenges. This will enable the full potential of 5G NTN to be realized, providing global, high-speed connectivity while ensuring the security and privacy of users.

 

Introduction To Regulatory and Policy Considerations for 5G NTN

In a rapidly evolving digital world, 5G NTN are being looked upon as the next significant leap in global connectivity. As such, the regulatory and policy landscape surrounding these networks is as complex as it is critical. The interplay of regulations and policies will determine how 5G NTNs are designed, what services they offer, and how those services reach the end user. These rules and guidelines also serve as the first line of defense in safeguarding consumer rights, ensuring data privacy, and maintaining the integrity and security of the networks. The design and operation of these networks are subject to international, national, and local rules, spanning areas like spectrum allocation, network interoperability, data protection, and environmental impact. Compliance with these regulations is mandatory, and failure to do so can result in severe penalties, including fines and loss of licenses. Therefore, an understanding of regulatory and policy considerations is not just important; it is integral to the functioning of 5G NTN.

Spectrum Allocation and Management in 5G NTN

The spectrum is the lifeblood of any wireless communication system, including 5G NTN. The ability to transmit data over the air depends on the availability of spectrum – radio frequencies that are allocated specifically for this purpose. Several types of spectrum could be suitable for 5G NTN, including both high-frequency (e.g., Ka-band, V-band) and mid-frequency (e.g., C-band, X-band) ranges. The choice of spectrum affects the performance of the network in terms of data speed, latency, and coverage. However, the spectrum is a finite resource, and its allocation must be managed carefully to prevent interference between different services and to ensure efficient use.

One of the main challenges in spectrum allocation for 5G NTN is coordinating spectrum sharing between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks. Both types of networks may operate in the same frequency bands; without proper management, they could interfere with each other’s signals. Techniques such as dynamic spectrum sharing and geographic spectrum allocation can be used to manage this issue. International bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) play a vital role in coordinating global spectrum use. They establish the rules for spectrum allocation, manage international frequency registrations, and work to resolve interference issues. In the context of 5G NTN, which are inherently global in nature, the role of these international bodies is particularly significant. Overall, spectrum allocation and management form a critical part of the regulatory landscape for 5G NTN. Understanding these issues is key to building and operating successful 5G NTN systems.

Licensing Regulations

Operating a 5G NTN is subject to obtaining a license from the appropriate regulatory bodies, which typically involves a rigorous application process that examines the technical, financial, and legal capabilities of the applicant. Once granted, the license confers certain rights, such as the right to use a particular portion of the spectrum, to launch satellites, and to provide services in certain geographical areas. But these rights come with a set of obligations, including compliance with technical standards, adherence to spectrum usage rules, and responsibilities towards customers.

Operational Regulations

Operational regulations for 5G NTN cover a broad range of issues. One important area is network resilience, where regulations may require operators to have contingency plans in place to ensure continuous service in case of network failures. Another key area is data protection, which involves rules on the collection, storage, and sharing of user data to protect privacy and prevent data breaches. Customer service is another area covered by operational regulations, with rules on issues like pricing, billing, and dispute resolution to protect consumer rights.

Addressing Regulatory Challenges in Global 5G NTN

Regulating a global 5G NTN presents unique challenges due to its inherently international nature. This section discusses these challenges and the efforts to address them.

Coordinating regulations across borders – One of the key challenges is coordinating regulations across borders. Since 5G NTN can provide services across multiple countries, they need to comply with the regulatory regimes of all these countries, which can often be quite different. International bodies like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) play a crucial role in this regard, working to harmonize regulations and promote cooperation between countries.

Preventing interference with terrestrial networks – Preventing interference with terrestrial networks and other satellite systems is another significant challenge. Regulators need to manage the use of the spectrum carefully to prevent such interference. This involves coordinating with different operators, allocating spectrum in a way that minimizes interference, and setting rules for managing interference when it does occur.

Space debris – Lastly, space debris is a growing concern in the context of 5G NTN, which involves the launch of large numbers of satellites. Regulations need to address this issue to prevent the creation of new debris and manage the risk posed by existing debris. This involves rules on the design, operation, and end-of-life disposal of satellites.

Overall, while regulating a global 5G NTN is challenging, it is also crucial for the successful operation of these networks and the realization of their potential benefits.

Policy Considerations for Successful 5G NTN

Policy considerations play a crucial role in shaping the deployment and use of 5G NTN.

Data privacy policies – Data privacy policies are of paramount importance in the era of 5G NTN. As these networks enable a higher degree of connectivity and facilitate the Internet of Things (IoT), they also generate and collect a massive amount of data. Policies must be put in place to protect user data, ensure informed consent, and prevent unauthorized access and misuse.

Cybersecurity policies – Cybersecurity policies are another key area of focus for 5G NTN. Given that these networks will form the backbone of critical infrastructure, including public services and industry 4.0 applications, it is imperative to ensure their security from cyber threats. Policies are needed to mandate the implementation of robust security measures and to encourage cooperation and information sharing to prevent and respond to cyber-attacks.

Digital divide policies – Policies related to the digital divide are also significant. One of the key advantages of 5G NTN is its ability to extend connectivity to remote and underserved areas, potentially playing a major role in bridging the digital divide. However, policies need to ensure that this potential is realized, for instance, by promoting investment in these areas and ensuring affordable access to services.

Read the complete article in the 5G Magazine

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