5G and 6G | Future of communications has already started today | ReOrbit

The space industry should reach $1 trillion in annual revenue by 2040, according to a report by Citibank analysts. At the same time, a recent report from Inmarsat and Globant estimates the world could reach net zero up to ten years ahead of the 2050 target if industries make the most of existing and emerging space-based satellite technology. Suffice to say, space can offer an array of solutions for sustainability, security and connectivity. Mobile communications have evolved from generation to generation, adding better capabilities, and the trend is far from being over. The sixth generation is already in the making, and 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 the focus on autonomous machines and vehicles capable of sensing their surrounding environment in real time (network as a sensor). This article expands on how small satellites will augment the future of communications that starts already today.

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.

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