Keeping Satellite in the 5G Game

EKINOPS explores the intersection between virtualization, 5G and satellite communications, highlighting how a recent technology breakthrough will deliver additional value for satcom providers, CSPs and end-users alike.

5GPP, the EU body charged with establishing global consensus on the use of 5G, has been making strong progress in defining how the new connectivity standard can support a rapidly growing range of future use cases. Telecom operators, who will be required to make huge investments in replacing masts, antennas, base stations and other equipment to support 5G, are happy to wait for the body to publish its specifications. Satcom providers, however, are not. As things currently stand, satcom is not part of the 5G game and, as a result, its equipment and service providers risk being elbowed out of use-cases for which satellite is today’s de-facto choice.

From a commercial perspective, communication service providers (CSPs) know that their ability to support all types of network links gives them the flexibility to deliver bespoke solutions that maximise value for their customers. To this end, harmonising satellite with 5G makes a lot of sense, particularly where the technology can augment 5G services.

The range of situations that favour a satcom/5G solution is bigger than one might think, and extends beyond the infrequent, high bandwidth requirements of native satcom broadcasting, live sports stadium feeds and news broadcasting. Satellite also has a valuable role to play in areas where 5G networks have limited coverage, allowing 5G traffic backhauling to remote areas, for example, and complementing ‘slow’ terrestrial links thanks to multi-link technology and connections to mobile vehicles and planes.

Fortunately, this argument has already been recognised within 5GPP, and has given rise to SaT5G, an H2020 European Research project with the objective of designing next generation standards that make satcom 5G-friendly. The group is developing a cost-effective ‘plug and play’ satcom solution for 5G to enable operators and network vendors to accelerate 5G deployment in all geographies and, at the same time, create new and growing market opportunities for satcom industry stakeholders.

Through this project, Sat5G is enabling a genuine breakthrough in the use of multi-link technologies to leverage seamlessly satellite and terrestrial technologies into 5G. Specifically, it enables optimised, i.e. higher, 5G backhauling capabilities as well as policy-based traffic offload over a satellite link. From a usage perspective, this means that 5G will benefit from broadcast/multicast satellite capabilities delivered as virtual network functions in an SDN/NFV environment. It also means that CSPs will be able to extend their 5G infrastructure and use-cases by integrating satcom with the 5G standards-based API. These significant innovation and standardization efforts limit their required investment and reduce time-to-revenue in cases where 5G is limited either locally or temporarily in capacity or reach.

The impact of this work should not be underestimated. Not only does it brings satcom providers back into the 5G picture, it also expands what CSPs will be able to do with the new infrastructure – something which will potentially accelerate 5G deployment and, ultimately, will deliver more revenue into the industry, enabling both greater capacity and flexibility