5G is a “network of networks” and satellites are part of that new network

For many years satellites have been instrumental in the wide world of telecommunications, albeit, given the high barrier to entry in the market, limited largely to governmental stakeholders and major communications service providers. But the economics of satellites are changing with trends in miniaturization that lower cost, as well as new companies like Space X, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and other private enterprises investing in delivering satellites to orbit. Given the importance of space-based network infrastructure, standards body 3GPP is examining the role satellites will play in delivering on 5G connectivity.

According to a recent post to the 3GPP blog, Nicolas Chuberre and Cyril Michel write: “The roles and benefits of satellites in 5G have been studied in 3GPP Release 14, leading to the specific requirement to support satellite access being captured in TS22.261 – ‘Service requirements for next generation new services and markets; Stage 1’, recognizing the added value that satellite coverage brings, as part of the mix of access technologies for 5G, especially for mission critical and industrial applications where ubiquitous coverage is crucial.”

The authors identify four broad use cases satellites can bring to 5G:

  • Supporting delivering o service in “un-served or underserved areas;”
  • Enabling network availability to “moving platforms (e.g. passenger vehicles-aircraft, ships, high speed trains, buses;”
  • Address one of the three primary use cases of 5G–critical communications–in “future railway/maritime/aeronautical communications;”
  • And help scale 5G network deployments “through the provision of efficient multicast/broadcast resources for data delivery towards the network edges or even directly to the user equipment.”


With massive investment from the likes of Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank, U.S. company OneWeb plans to launch 10 satellites this year to test out delivery of Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G and LTE services to a terrestrial user terminal. This initiative has drawn the attention of high profile board members including Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs, Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson, Airbus Group CEO Thomas Enders and Sunnil Mittal, founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises.

OneWeb Founder Greg Wyler has said the concept, at scale, could enable global and vehicular communications for public safety, low-latency connectivity for flying aircraft, rural coverage mobile carriers can use to bolster network availability, and pinpoint access to educational, healthcare, schools and other vital community centers.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has a telecommunications group that operates the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program, which has written that “5G represents far more than just the next generation of terrestrial mobile service,” but instead will results from “a convergence of fixed and mobile services, introduce a new set of technologies and standards, create a network of networks and facilitate communications between everyone and everything, whilst focusing on some key vertical markets.”

In support of “security, resilience, coverage, mobility and delivery of broadband,” ARTES last year announced an initiative to work with satellite ecosystem stakeholders to work on 5G-related trials in support of transport, public safety and media and entertainment services.

Last year satellite operator Intelsat worked with chipmaker Intel to urge the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow C-band spectrum, the 3700 MHz to 4200 MHz frequencies, for satellite support of mobile networks. The spectrum is used now by satellite operators for television broadcasting in the U.S. Intel and Intelsat want to use it to support three primary use cases:

  • Enable MNOs “to obtain expanded spectrum in metropolitan regions, encouraging the roll out of 5G services;”
  • Provide incumbent satellite operators “certainty regarding their investments in infrastructure;”
  • And benefit the broad U.S. economy by setting the stage or rapid commercialization of 5G.


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