Satellites are set to give 5G liftoff

30 August 2018 |

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Capacity’s James Pearce went to this year’s Farnborough airshow to hear about the role the space industry will play in next generation of communications

he European Space Agency last year partnered with a number of European companies from the space industry to launch a project developing the role of satellites in 5G communications.

The ESA, an international intergovernmental organisation established by the Convention on the establishment of a European Space Agency, said a pan-European approach to 5G trials is vital for Europe to achieve leadership in the next-gen technology. The aim of the project is to drive the role of satcomms in these trials.

I sat in on a panel recently hosted by the ESA at the Farnborough Airshow, in the UK town of Farnborough. Normally, the airshow is more about jet planes and military flights than telecoms, so it was fascinating to hear about 5G from satellite companies.

Magali Vaissiere, director of telecommunications and integrated applications at the ESA, opened by explaining: "5G promises to deliver a huge amount of bandwidth at any time."

He added: "We continue to work with countries (governments) to drive coverage. We believe that space communications will play a vital role in deployment of 5G and the rollout of digital services."

Since the launch of the Artes project, the ESA has been involved in the launch of SKYWAN 5G, which is a mesh VSAT network solution launched by ND Satcom, a subsidiary of Astrium. It is a bi-directional MF-TDMA and DVB unit that supports voice, video and data applications in the most bandwidth-efficient manner possible.

Vaissiere was joined on the panel by Kieran Arnold, director of ubiquitous connectivity at the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult. The Catapult is a UK-based technology and innovation company created by Innovate UK to drive economic growth through the exploitation of space.

Earlier this year, the Catapult announced a partnership with Juniper Networks to construct a secure, end-to-end network infrastructure in support of their 5G testbed. The testbed, which opened in April, aims to creates a secure, network infrastructure to foster the innovative use of 5G, providing ubiquitous connectivity across terrestrial and satellite communication.

Explaining the role of the testbed, Arnold said: "Communication infrastructure services underpin the development of many next generation innovations and satellite connectivity is a critical element. The two cannot develop independently from one another. 5G underpins the overall agenda for better connecting digital infrastructure to data sharing devices across the country and hence is a key part of UK Government digital strategy."

Arnold, who formerly worked for Orange Labs and Orange Business Services, said the relationship between terrestrial providers and satellite firms will be vital to deployments of 5G communications services.

"The terrestrial operators understand the challenges of providing ultra-low latencies and enough capacity for 5G better than anyone. We talk with them about services, we talk about the technology, and we talk about the value of collaboration with satellite providers. With everything, you want a return investment, but for terrestrial providers there is an opportunity, because they aren’t necessarily increasing subscribers in high density metro areas, but there is a huge demand in low coverage areas that are harder to reach."

The panel also welcomed several satellite providers, with Eric Béranger – the CEO of OneWeb – and Ignacio Sanchis, CCO, Hispasat, also speaking. OneWeb, which is set to launch a significant number of micro satellites to support future deployments, said the internet of things was a key driver for its plans.

"IoT means billions of devices which are connected all over the world. To deliver this, 5G needs absolute ubiquity. This means connectivity in the territories, at sea, in the air, it means everywhere. If you look at what we’re doing with OneWeb, this is a key focus, along with offering low latency services.

"We are working to develop 5G because without it that will be very difficult to achieve. We will launch our first satellite by the end of the year and launch our services by 2020. "With connectivity absolutely everywhere, we will be able to perform all activities we’d normally perform in an office everywhere we go. So 5G is such a key enabler to the social and economic development of both rich and poor nations."