Advanced Television

5G satellite connectivity pilot

September 8, 2022

By Colin Mann

LEO satellite broadband company OneWeb has teamed up with the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey (5GIC) and CGI, one of the largest IT and business services firms in the world, to test the integration of satellite communications and mobile 5G networks.

In a post-COVID world, the demand for better connectivity, as well as new applications to support remote working, automation, e-commerce, transport, education and healthcare is increasing exponentially and globally. To achieve universal coverage and resilient and affordable connectivity in support of the new digitised economy, a mix of technologies is required. Further integration of Low Earth Orbit satellite communications and existing mobile 5G networks is therefore necessary to leverage the strengths of both.

The 5G-Pilot Test project, funded by the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency under Sunrise Partnership Project is expected to last 18 months, and started in Q1-2022. The scheme comprises three high level components, which are (1) development, testing and validation of OneWeb’s low-latency satellite network capability to transport 5G services in backhaul; (2) development, testing and validation of the ability of OneWeb’s prototype beam hopping ‘Joey-Sat’ satellite to transport 5G services in backhaul; and (3) testing of backhauling from a mobile 5G base-station to a 5G core network to provide seamless mobile connectivity for transport.

Each member of the consortium brings a unique perspective and specific expertise to the pilot project. OneWeb’s role as ‘lead’ is to bring 5G-Pilot Test to a market ready position by developing the technical and operational elements to offer this service. The 5GIC at the University of Surrey will bring their knowledge and expertise of both satellite and 5G terrestrial networks, act as the ‘reference’ Mobile Network Operator (MNO) within the project and provide test-bed resources with end-to-end slice MNO middleware, 5G core network (made in the UK), SDN infrastructure, QoS management and test RAN. They will build upon the previous world first of carrying 5G service slices across Geostationary satellites. CGI brings its UK developed enterprise-scale capability for 5G / satellite network management and integration. CGI will deliver and integrate a 5G enabled connectivity solution for mobility, demonstrated using a road vehicle, using a Druid Software 5G core network, allowing users to roam seamlessly on the move using OneWeb.

The 5G-Pilot Test further establishes the leadership role of UK and Europe in the integration of satellite communications into 5G as a ‘network of networks’ in a tangible way. Users will experience the same quality of service, unaware of the technical complexities that have been overcome to allow divergent technologies to work seamlessly together. The consortium will further develop the opportunity of LEO satellite enabled 5G to those areas currently impossible to reach via traditional terrestrial services. This utilises state-of-the-art integration and management of end-to-end 5G ‘slices’ across the satellite and terrestrial network.

“Creating an interoperable Low Earth Orbit satellite communications and mobile 5G network is critical to achieve a ubiquitous, affordable, fast and consistent connectivity experience to businesses, users and governments,” stated Massimiliano Ladovaz, Chief Technical Officer at OneWeb. “That’s why we’re excited by this opportunity to test the future of global 5G connectivity across the OneWeb network. With our talented partners and with the support from ESA and the UK Space Agency, this pilot is an important step in our mission to connect people everywhere, on land, at sea and in the air, providing the opportunity for people to realise their full potential even in the remotest reaches of the planet.”

“Satellite systems are key enablers for 5G services, and they will become increasingly integrated with communications networks as we progress beyond 5G towards 6G in solving cost-effectively the societal challenge of the Digital Divide,” added Regius Professor Rahim Tafazolli, head of the Institute for Communications at the University of Surrey. “The University of Surrey’s 5G & 6G Innovation Centre is delighted to be participating in the 5G-Pilot project, providing key network functionality innovation and test bed facilities, as part of our ongoing strategy to remain at the cutting edge of networking and satellite research and expertise.”

“Fully-integrated 5G hybrid networks bring the promise of ubiquitous, seamless and high-speed connectivity to us all,” commented Shaun Stretton, Senior Vice President for Space Control and Information Solutions at CGI in the UK. Mobile platforms bring unique challenges in realising this vision, making projects like the 5G-Pilot incredibly important. At CGI we have been leading the way in making these complex integrated networks a reality and we are very much looking forward to working with our world class partners to further address these challenges so that we can bring these game changing capabilities to market.”

“ESA is at the forefront of 5G/6G innovation, supporting industry and academia to be the world champions of the digital transformation race,” declared Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA. “ESA’s Sunrise Partnership Project is the best vehicle to validate disruptive connectivity pilots through space and terrestrial infrastructures, in cooperation with OneWeb, the University of Surrey and CGI. ESA will continue promoting the excellence of the European and Canadian space industries and academia, pushing technology barriers and preparing new commercial services for the benefits of its citizens.”

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