Report: 5G the “moonshot objective” for satellite

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The world’s major satellite players are busy preparing for 5G. While much of the focus has been on the US, where some of their C-band frequencies have been auctioned off by the FCC, similar sell-offs are happening around the globe.

A report from Northern Sky Research (NSR) says that direct satellite connectivity to mobile, at affordable prices, has been one of the moonshot objectives of the industry for many years. Leveraging the advances in 5G, multiple projects are pursuing this vision, attracting huge levels of interest.

NSR analyst and report author Lluc Palerm asks what are the opportunities and limitations of adopting Mobile standards for satellite communications, and says: “One of the most relevant elements of the 5G NR (New Radio access technology) network standard is its adaptation to allow direct connectivity from devices to Non-Terrestrial Networks. This has a truly transformative potential for the Satellite industry. In fact, NSR’s 5G via Satellite report forecasts the largest number of units to be connected over Satellite to come from this new capability.”

5G NR is widely expected to provide the ground work for even 7G and 8G developments over time. Norway’s Telenor is very active in these developments.

NSR says that 5G NR, and with it ‘off the shelf’ devices that can connect to a terrestrial station, will be able to close the link with satellite, and this is no minor feat. “This instantly opens the door for Satellite to go mainstream and leverage the mass-market production and the distribution ecosystems.”

“The good news is that major chipset manufacturers are embracing this opportunity, and the race to adapt their products and influence the standards yields promising technology demonstrations (MediaTek-Inmarsat). Using standardised chipsets and leveraging the scale of mainstream devices production will obviously drastically cut equipment prices,” Palerm suggests.

He also says that the capability to communicate with mainstream devices means a paradigm shift in the definition of the addressable market. “A standard device that is located outside of the terrestrial coverage (be it an IoT device in a mobile platform, or an end-user going on a weekend trek) could potentially roam to the satellite network. In the same line, this opens global scale distribution channels with satellite operators acting as wholesale providers for MNOs that want to offer truly ubiquitous coverage.”

NSR’s ‘bottom line’ is that direct satellite connectivity to mainstream devices is possible, and the entire ecosystem (terrestrially-focused chipset vendors, satellite operators, startups, standardisation bodies etc) is working hard to adapt 5G NR to Non-Terrestrial Networks.

“This will unlock extraordinary opportunities for the satellite industry. Opening access to cheap mainstream devices, changing the definition of the addressable market (now counted in Billions), and access to global scale distribution will change the paradigm for Narrowband applications (IoT, Consumer Handheld, etc.),” states NSR.


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