This convergence between terrestrial and space-based telecommunications networks for 5G has begun. In 2021, Lockheed Martin’s space division announced a strategic partnership with satellite start-up Omnispace to jointly build out a space-based 5G network. Combining satellite and mobile wireless carrier networks to create “a global 5G network, which will enable users to seamlessly transition between the satellite and terrestrial networks.
With the emergence of companies like SpaceX, OneWeb, AST SpaceMobile, and Project Kupier, who seek to create disruptive business models in low earth orbit (LEO), as well as more traditional geosynchronous (GSO) providers like Telesat and ViaSat who are adapting their infrastructure and satellite capabilities to compete for market share with the proliferated LEO providers.
For satellites to have an increasing role in telecommunications networks in general and 5G networks in particular, three main factors are at play;
In 5G networks, satellites could serve three potential functions: providing additional backhaul, creating redundancies, and providing remote and rural areas with greater connectivity. There is a growing awareness of satellite technology's potential to move from a backup system to a mainstream connectivity tool and address this divide. Modern technologies and customer expectations (driven by the recent pandemic) commands for good connectivity and resulting services that require continuous or on-demand data.
By using satellite technology, rural communities and remote industries are no longer left in a technological void, reliant on slow and expensive terrestrial network development to improve their connectivity. This levelling-up of global communications could not have happened at a better time: the optimisation of world-wide resources is critical to most of the challenges that humanity now faces. Connectivity solutions have extended to maximise the technology experience. Today, satellite technology not only connects people and IoT, it also connects infrastructure.
New levels of connectivity will allow all users to understand the state of their environment and the state of their infrastructure. This transformation is being applied globally, and is starting to erase differences in precision applications for rural communities and remote enterprise. With this new continuum of connectivity, comes a plethora of opportunities and possibilities.
Backhaul (moving data between the Radio Access Network (RAN) and the core network) has traditionally occurred over fibre or wireless point-to-point. With increasing demands on telecommunication networks it has become a natural evolution for mobile network operators (MNO) to look towards emerging technologies to meet the demands for 4G/LTE networks as well as 5G they roll out in more locations. With clusters of LEO's increasing and the costs associated with accessing them decreasing, 5G networks have an alternative for their backhaul needs.
With greater access to pLEOs, satellites now have the potential to provide overlay networks duplicating segments of the terrestrial networks. This overlay network could replace or augment existing terrestrial networks if those networks experience reduced functionality due to natural disasters or cyberattacks. This redundancy could allow network operators prioritise critical operations & emergency services while the work restore access to terrestrial networks. Mobile Voice & Data services are essential for the daily functioning of not only our economy but society, government, and military, but they are also a potential single and catastrophic point of failure. Satellite systems overlaying aspects of terrestrial systems deemed strategically important or essential for emergency operations in the event of a catastrophe, can provide those systems with additional resiliency through redundancy.
5G networks will bring with them an exponentially growing number of connected devices, including mobile phones but also a vast array of IoT devices including billions of sensors. Think rural hospitals carrying out remote surgeries; cars traversing interstates, planes in flight, and ships out at sea; and agriculture fields full of sensors. Satellites, integrated into terrestrial telecommunications networks through new network architectures, can provide an important solution by leveraging the wide satellite coverage enabled by pLEOs. With the addition of more fully integrated satellite systems into 5G networks, connectivity can be expanded to remote areas of Australia and the world where laying fibre is not economically viable or feasible (an oil rig off the coast, a ship traversing the ocean, or an airplane flying overhead).
Having billions of IoT devices poses a significant operational challenge. To combat on-going security vulnerabilities, devices need constant updates and future 5G devices will require an efficient distribution of data on a global scale. With wide coverage and broadcast capabilities, satellites are well-positioned to support IoT. They can offer shared uplink connectivity for a massive amount of IoT devices and provide data aggregation.With an integrated satellite-terrestrial solution, the additional capacity can be used as an IoT backup or supplementing congested data traffic. This permits higher peak rates and more reliability in massive machine communication.
The traditional core market of satellite communication is media broadcast. Now, with the proliferation of mobile devices, media content trends are shifting away from live linear television broadcasts, to low latency on-demand streaming.Media streaming - arguably the most successful service of 4G - will become one of the key use cases for new satellite technology. With 5G, users will consume enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) applications such as 8K video streaming and online VR/AR gaming. With the help of 5G-enabled satellites, these immersive experiences can globally transmit higher data rates to support smooth delivery and low latency to mobile devices.
LEO Satellites will play a key part in extending cellular 5G networks to air, sea and other remote areas not covered by small cell networks. For the end-user, satellites offer a seamless extension of 5G services from the city to airplanes, cruise liners and other vehicles in remote locations. IoT sensors and M2M connections on farms and remote worksites like mines can also capitalize on the wide coverage areas offered by 5G satellites. By intelligently routing and offloading traffic, satellites save valuable spectrum and improve the resilience of each network.In the event of a natural or man-made disaster where 5G infrastructure is damaged, satellite networks can take over and keep the network alive.