Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and French aerospace company Thales are planning to take 5G out of this world and across a network of Earth-orbiting satellites.
After having each conducted detailed research, which included multiple studies and simulations, the parties plan to enter smartphone-use-case-focused testing and validation of 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTN). The result could effectively mean that a future 5G smartphone could use 5G connectivity anywhere on Earth and provide complete global coverage for wideband data services, including places normally only covered by legacy satellite phone systems with limited data connectivity capabilities.
The benefits of 5G connectivity via low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are expected to include coverage in extreme geographies or remote areas across seas, oceans and other locations where terrestrial coverage is absent. Such widespread connectivity would boost 5G smartphone subscriber roaming service capabilities, as well as enable global connectivity for transportation, energy and health sector 5G use cases.
The space-based network could also be used as backup support to terrestrial networks in the event of major network outages or disasters. The expected security capabilities of 5G NTNs mean that national government communications may be a main use case to enhance safe and secure national security and public safety government networks.
Ericsson plans to verify a 5G virtual RAN (vRAN) stack modified to handle radio signal propagating via the fast-moving LEO satellites. Thales plans to verify a 5G radio satellite payload suitable for deployment on LEO satellites, while Qualcomm Technologies plans to provide test phones verifying that 5G NTN can be accessed by future 5G smartphones.
Experts will use ground-based equipment to emulate the 5G radio propagation and time delays between an equipped satellite in orbit connected to a 5G smartphone with the 5G radio access network at different places on the Earth’s surface. As a 3GPP-backed technology, 5G NTNs will be able to capitalize on a large ecosystem of standardized products and components. The new specification also enables the inclusion of NTN technologies in 5G devices, providing opportunities for technology vendors to easily and quickly scale 5G NTN compatibility across devices.