Satellite and Non-Terrestrial Networks

Editorial Report | Feb 2023

NTN and Satellite Communications

Viasat was awarded a contract to provide end-to-end satellite communications (SATCOM) support through a fully managed service to the United States Marine Corps (USMC), an extension following a successful pilot and follow-on service program in the government’s FY22.
SES’s medium earth orbit satellites provide du with the connection it needs to make 5G backhaul services available to remote locations throughout the region.
OneWeb and Intellian, the leading global provider of multi-constellation, feature-rich, future-proof satellite user terminal and communications solutions, announce the success of their joint over-the-air demonstration, using Intellian’s integrated, small form-factor Electronically Scanned Array (ESA) user terminal, operating in a live commercial network environment facilitated by OneWeb.
OneWeb successfully deployed 40 satellites via SpaceX from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Jan 10th. This launch 16 brings the total OneWeb constellation to 542 satellites – over 80% of the satellite fleet is now in orbit.

Non-Terrestrial Networks with the focus on Satellite Connectivity

Non-terrestrial networks refer to communication networks operating outside the Earth’s surface, such as satellite networks or balloons providing internet connectivity in remote or hard-to-reach areas. These networks are often used when terrestrial networks are not feasible or economical to deploy, such as in remote areas of the world, at sea, or in air or space.

Non-terrestrial networks may also be used as a backup or supplementary communication infrastructure to terrestrial networks in case of failure or disaster.

  1. Satellite networks: These networks use satellites in orbit around the Earth to transmit and receive signals, and include geostationary and Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite networks
  2. Balloon networks: These networks use balloons that are floated high in the stratosphere to transmit and receive signals. They can be used for applications such as providing internet access in remote or hard-to-reach areas, as well as for remote sensing and scientific research.
  3. High-altitude platform stations (HAPS): These networks use aircraft or airships that fly at high altitudes, such as the stratosphere, to transmit and receive signals. They can be used for similar applications to balloon networks, and they also have the added advantage of mobility.
  4. Drone networks: These networks use drones, which also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to transmit and receive signals. They can be used for a wide range of applications, such as providing internet access in remote or hard-to-reach areas, remote sensing, scientific research, and commercial uses like delivery and inspection.
  5. Stratospheric platform stations (SAPS): This network uses a platform stationed in the lower part of the stratosphere, such as a blimp, that can relay communications between ground and satellites or between ground and another SAPS.
  6. Laser Communications: This network uses a laser to transmit data between two points, This technology is still in development, but it has great potential to provide high-bandwidth, low-latency communications.

A satellite network is a type of communication network that uses satellites to transmit and receive signals. It typically consists of a group of satellites that are placed in orbit around the Earth, as well as ground stations that communicate with the satellites. The signals that are transmitted and received by the satellites can include voice, data, and video.

A satellite network can be divided into different types based on the satellite’s altitude. The main types are: 

  • Geostationary satellite network: Satellites in this network are placed at the height of 36,000 kilometers, where they orbit around the Earth at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation, making them appear stationary in the sky. This type of network is widely used for television and radio broadcasting and other communication services such as voice and data. 
  • Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network: Satellites in this network are placed at a lower altitude of about 1,200 to 2,000 kilometers. LEO satellites are closer to the Earth and orbit the Earth more quickly, which allows for lower latencies and higher capacities.

Satellite networks are used for a wide range of applications, including:

  • Providing communication and internet access in remote or hard-to-reach areas where building terrestrial networks would be difficult or expensive.
  • Providing mobile communication and internet access for ships, airplanes, and other vehicles.
  • Providing television and radio broadcasting.
  • Providing backup or supplementary communication infrastructure to terrestrial networks in case of failure or disaster.

Overall, satellite networks are a type of non-terrestrial network that uses satellites to transmit and receive signals. It’s particularly useful in providing connectivity and communication services to remote and hard-to-reach areas, as well as for specific industries such as shipping, aviation, and broadcasting.

There are several reasons why non-terrestrial networks are needed:

  1. Remote and hard-to-reach areas: Non-terrestrial networks can provide communication and internet access in remote or hard-to-reach areas where building terrestrial networks would be difficult or expensive.
  2. Reliability and redundancy: Non-terrestrial networks can act as a backup or supplementary communication infrastructure in case of failure or disaster. This can be important for critical infrastructure such as hospitals, emergency services, and military operations.
  3. Mobility: Non-terrestrial networks can provide communication and internet access for mobile platforms, such as ships, airplanes, and vehicles.
  4. Coverage and capacity: Non-terrestrial networks can provide wide-area coverage and capacity, which is especially useful for areas with high population density or a large number of internet users.
  5. Innovation and experimentation: The deployment of non-terrestrial networks also drives innovation and experimentation, which will help develop and improve new technologies and services.
  6. Low Latency: Non-Terrestrial networks help in providing low latency communication, which is required for certain fields such as gaming or financial trading.

Overall, non-terrestrial networks offer a solution for communication and internet access in areas where traditional terrestrial networks are not able to reach, as well as a backup in case of failure or disaster of terrestrial networks.

Satellite networks have several advantages over other types of non-terrestrial networks, such as:

  1. Wide coverage area: Satellite networks can provide communication and internet access over a wide area, including remote and hard-to-reach areas where building terrestrial networks or other non-terrestrial networks, would be difficult or expensive.
  2. Global coverage: Geostationary satellite networks provide global coverage, which can be useful for applications such as television and radio broadcasting and communication services such as voice and data.
  3. Mobility: Satellite networks can provide communication and internet access for ships, airplanes, and other vehicles, making them well-suited for transportation, shipping, and aviation industries.
  4. Resilience: Satellite networks can provide backup or supplementary communication infrastructure to terrestrial networks in case of failure or disaster.
  5. Low Latency: LEO satellite networks are able to provide lower latencies than geostationary satellite networks, as they are closer to the Earth.
  6. High capacity: LEO satellite networks can provide higher capacities than geostationary satellite networks, as they can have a larger number of satellites in the network.
  7. Cost-effective: As technology advances, the cost of launching and operating satellite networks is becoming more cost-effective and thereby accessible to a wider range of customers.

It’s worth noting that satellite networks have many advantages, but they also have some limitations, such as reliability on weather, higher latency, and the cost of launching and maintaining satellites in space can be high.

Each non-terrestrial network type has its advantages and limitations, and the best choice of the network will depend on the specific requirements of the service or application.

here are a number of companies and organizations that provide non-terrestrial networks, including:

  • Satellite companies, such as Iridium Communications, Inmarsat, and SES S.A., provide satellite-based voice and data communication services to customers worldwide.
  • Space exploration companies like SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon, which provide low Earth orbit satellite internet service, are working on satellite-based internet systems to provide high-speed, low-latency internet access globally.
  • Government organizations, such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), also operate their own non-terrestrial networks for communication and navigation purposes.

This is not an exhaustive list, but those are some examples of the main actors in the non-terrestrial network market.

There are several companies that are currently working on satellite networks, including:

  • SpaceX, which is developing its Starlink network of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for broadband internet service
  • OneWeb, which is also building a LEO satellite constellation for broadband internet
  • Amazon, which is working on a project called Kuiper, which aims to build a network of LEO satellites for internet service
  • Boeing, which has a division called Boeing NeXt that is developing satellite-based internet connectivity systems
  • Telesat, a Canadian company that is also developing an LEO satellite network for broadband internet service
  • SES S.A is a leading satellite operator providing satellite-enabled communications services globally

These are some examples and are not an exhaustive list as there are many more companies, both big and small, working on satellite networks, government bodies, and startups in this field as well.

There are several challenges associated with non-terrestrial networks:

  1. High costs: The deployment and maintenance of non-terrestrial networks can be expensive, making it challenging to provide services at a reasonable cost to customers.
  2. Weather and atmospheric conditions: Non-terrestrial networks can be affected by weather conditions, such as rain, snow, and strong winds, which can disrupt the transmission of signals.
  3. Limited coverage and capacity: Due to the limited number of satellites or balloons in orbit, coverage and capacity can be limited, leading to congestion during peak usage times.
  4. Latency: The distance between the network and the user increases latency or delay in communication, which can be a problem for certain applications, such as online gaming or video conferencing.
  5. Security and Interference: As non-terrestrial networks are operated in a shared environment, security and interference are a major concern.
  6. Regulatory and legal issues: The use of non-terrestrial networks is regulated by government organizations, and operators must comply with various laws and regulations regarding communication, frequency allocation, and international cooperation.
  7. Space debris and collisions: As the number of non-terrestrial networks increase, the potential for collisions with space debris and other satellites becomes greater, which can cause damage and downtime to the network.

Overall, despite the benefits that non-terrestrial networks provide, the high costs, weather and atmospheric conditions, limited coverage and capacity, security, regulatory and legal issues, latency, and space debris are important challenges that must be overcome.

Non-terrestrial networks are deployed and currently in use in a variety of locations, including:

  1. Remote and hard-to-reach areas: Non-terrestrial networks can provide communication and internet access in remote or hard-to-reach areas where building terrestrial networks would be difficult or expensive. This includes areas such as the Arctic, the Amazon rainforest, and the Himalayas.
  2. At sea: Non-terrestrial networks can provide communication and internet access for ships, oil rigs, and other vessels at sea.
  3. In the air: Non-terrestrial networks can provide communication and internet access for airplanes and other aircraft.
  4. In space: Non-terrestrial networks can provide communication and internet access for spacecraft and other vehicles in space.
  5. Developing countries: Many developing countries also use non-terrestrial networks to provide internet and communication services, particularly in rural areas lacking terrestrial infrastructure.
  6. Military and Government usage: Non-terrestrial networks are used in military and government operations to provide secure and reliable communication for military, emergency responders, and other critical infrastructures.
  7. Remote sensing: Non-terrestrial networks are used to gather data from remote areas, such as weather and climate data from satellites,

There are many different uses for non-terrestrial networks in various industries and locations. In addition, the implementation of these networks is continuously expanding to new areas as technology advances and becomes more accessible.

There are a number of organizations that use non-terrestrial networks, including:

  1. Military and government agencies: Organizations such as the United States Department of Defense, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA) use non-terrestrial networks for communication, navigation, and remote sensing.
  2. Shipping and maritime industries: Shipping companies, oil rigs, and other vessels use non-terrestrial networks to provide communication and internet access at sea.
  3. Airlines and aviation: Airline companies and other aviation organizations use non-terrestrial networks to provide communication and internet access for airplanes and other aircraft.
  4. Emergency responders and disaster relief: Non-terrestrial networks are used to provide communication for emergency responders and disaster relief efforts in remote or hard-to-reach areas.
  5. Telecommunications companies: Telecommunications companies such as Iridium Communications, Inmarsat, and SES S.A. use non-terrestrial networks to provide satellite-based voice and data communication services to customers worldwide.
  6. Internet Service Providers: Companies such as SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon are working on satellite-based internet systems to provide high-speed, low-latency internet access globally.
  7. Remote sensing and Environmental Monitoring: Government and private organizations use non-terrestrial networks to gather data from remote areas, such as weather and climate data from satellites, to study the Earth’s environment and the changes that happen to it.
  8. Telecommunications, media, and entertainment industries: Non-terrestrial networks are used by companies in the telecommunications, media, and entertainment industries to provide high-quality video and audio streaming services, as well as to transmit live events to remote locations.

This is not an exhaustive list, but those are some examples of the main organizations that are using non-terrestrial networks. These networks are increasingly being used for diverse purposes as technology and implementation evolve.

5G and non-terrestrial networks work in slightly different ways, but they provide users with communication and internet access.

5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks, designed to provide faster internet speeds, lower latency, and improved capacity compared to previous generations. 5G networks rely on terrestrial infrastructure such as cell towers and base stations to transmit and receive signals. 5G networks can use both high and low-frequency bands. The high-frequency bands are used for fast data transmission, and the lower-frequency bands are for covering larger areas.

Non-terrestrial networks, on the other hand, use satellites, balloons, or other non-terrestrial infrastructure to transmit and receive signals. This network type can be used to provide communication and internet access in remote or hard-to-reach areas where terrestrial networks are not feasible or economical.

5G and non-terrestrial networks can be complementary, as 5G can provide high-speed and low-latency connectivity to users in urban and suburban areas, while non-terrestrial networks can provide connectivity to remote or hard-to-reach areas. The two networks can also be integrated to provide coverage and capacity where needed and to ensure service continuity in case of failure or disaster.

While 5G is more of a terrestrial technology, some companies are working on providing 5G over satellite, and non-terrestrial networks are also exploring ways to integrate with 5G and other technologies to bring additional capabilities and advantages.

Non-terrestrial networks, such as satellite networks, can be used to provide 5G connectivity in certain situations. One way to use non-terrestrial networks for 5G connectivity is to use satellites to backhaul 5G traffic from remote or hard-to-reach areas to a 5G core network. This can be useful for providing 5G connectivity in areas where it would be difficult or expensive to build terrestrial infrastructure, such as remote rural areas or offshore locations.

Another way non-terrestrial networks can be used for 5G connectivity is to use satellites to provide connectivity directly to users. Some companies are working on providing 5G services over satellite, which would involve launching satellites that are specifically designed to transmit 5G signals. This can be useful for providing 5G connectivity in areas where terrestrial networks are not available or have limited capacity.

It’s important to note that, While Non-terrestrial networks can be used to complement and enhance 5G connectivity, it is not a replacement for terrestrial networks as they can’t provide the same level of coverage, capacity, and low latency as terrestrial networks do.

In summary, non-terrestrial networks can be used to provide 5G connectivity in certain situations, such as remote or hard-to-reach areas where terrestrial networks are not feasible, or to enhance coverage and capacity where needed, but it is not intended to be a full replacement for terrestrial networks.

Yes, there are standards for non-terrestrial networks. These standards are developed by organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The ITU, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations, is responsible for developing international standards for telecommunications and satellite communication. It coordinates the allocation of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, and it publishes standards for satellite communications, such as the ITU Radio Regulations and the ITU-R series of Recommendations.

The ISO and IEC, which are international standards organizations, develop standards for a wide range of technologies, including satellite communication. ISO and IEC have a joint technical committee, ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, that has developed a number of international standards for satellite communication, including broadband satellite standards, e.g., the DVB-S2 and the DVB-S2X.

In addition to these international organizations, there are also industry-specific standards organizations, such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) in North America, that develop standards for specific industries or technologies.

Standards are important for non-terrestrial networks because they ensure that the networks are compatible with other systems and that they can be easily integrated with existing infrastructure. Standards also help ensure that the networks are secure and reliable and provide the performance and functionality that users require.

Overall, several international, regional, and industry-specific standards organizations establish and maintain various standards for non-terrestrial networks. It allows these networks to be more interoperable and compatible, thus promoting better and wider adoption of the technology.

The future of non-terrestrial networks looks promising as technology advances and the demand for communication and internet access in remote and hard-to-reach areas continues to grow. Some of the key trends and developments in the future of non-terrestrial networks include:

  1. Increased use of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites: LEO satellites are closer to the Earth than traditional geostationary satellites, which can provide lower latency and higher capacity. More companies such as SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon, and Telesat plan to launch large LEO satellite constellations to provide internet services.
  2. More advanced technologies: Non-terrestrial networks will continue to use more advanced technologies, such as machine learning, edge computing, and software-defined networking, to improve network performance and reduce costs.
  3. Integration with 5G and other terrestrial networks: Non-terrestrial networks will continue to be integrated with 5G and other terrestrial networks to provide enhanced coverage, capacity, and continuity of service in case of failure or disaster.
  4. Lower costs: As more companies enter the market and technology improves, the costs of launching and operating non-terrestrial networks are expected to decrease, making them more accessible to a wider range of customers.
  5. Diversification of applications: The use of non-terrestrial networks is expected to expand beyond traditional telecommunications applications to areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), e-commerce, remote sensing, and environmental monitoring.
  6. Increased regulation: With the increasing use of non-terrestrial networks and the launch of thousands of satellites, national and international regulations are expected to be reinforced to ensure these networks’ safe and secure operations.

Overall, the future of non-terrestrial networks looks promising as technology advances and the demand for connectivity continues to grow. More companies are entering the market, and the costs of launching and operating non-terrestrial networks are decreasing, making them more accessible to a wider range of customers. As a result, non-terrestrial networks are expected to expand beyond traditional telecommunications applications to a wide range of areas and industries, and regulatory bodies will play a crucial role in ensuring safe and secure operations.

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