- This is the first time a network equipment vendor like Ericsson has sought to use LEO satellites to expand 5G connectivity.
- The goal is to enable smartphone users to wirelessly access ultra-fast speeds and low latency anywhere in the world, especially in some of the most extreme topographies and remote locations.
The internet has been around for almost four decades and despite the fact that some countries are deeply committed to their fifth generation (5G) wireless connectivity business, more than a third of the world is still offline. The bitter truth remains that last-mile connectivity remains a pressing issue for many people around the world. However, with more companies as Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales explore Satellite Internet in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), one can’t help but think, is it imperative to integrate space into the solution?
At this point, competition is fierce as more governments and businesses explore the potential of LEO satellite technology to deliver high-speed Internet across the globe. Besides tech giants like SpaceX and Amazonthe governments that make up the European Union (EU) have also announced their intention to venture into space to provide secure communications and better broadband access.
Therefore, there is no doubt that competition is getting fiercer as more and more people place their bets on LEO satellite technology. Last week the race intensified with Qualcomm Technologies, Ericsson and French aerospace company Thales announcing their intention to work together with the aim of establishing 5G connections everywhere through the use of space.
This announcement marks the first time that a network equipment provider like Ericsson has attempted to use LEO satellites to bring 5G Connections to smartphones. The announcement follows the green light given in March 2022 by the global telecommunications standards body 3GPP for support non-terrestrial networks for the first time.
Essentially, these three companies aim to help global network coverage, even in areas that do not currently have terrestrial network capabilities. That said, using 5G connectivity via the LEO satellite, coverage can be extended to areas previously unable to receive service, including extreme terrain and across seas and oceans.
“The result could effectively mean that a future 5G smartphone could use 5G connectivity anywhere on Earth and provide full global coverage for broadband data services, including places normally covered only by older wireless systems. satellite telephony with limited data connectivity capabilities,” Thales said. in a report. The French defense and technology giant pointed out that the space network could also be used as a backup support to terrestrial networks in the event of major network failures or disasters.
5G in space: How will Ericsson, Qualcomm, Thales each be involved?
Basically, the focus of the tests will be to validate various technology components needed to enable 5G non-terrestrial networks, including a 5G smartphone, satellite payload, and ground-based 5G network elements. “This work also aims to validate that 5G NTN can be supported in a smartphone form factor enabling the 5G of tomorrow. smartphone effectively become a satellite phone. The first tests will take place in an emulated space environment in France, where the majority of the European space industry is based,” noted Thales.
Ericsson, as part of the test phase, will verify a 5G Virtual RAN (vRAN) stack, modified to handle the propagation of radio signals (what happens to 5G radio waves traveling through the vacuum of space and the Earth’s atmosphere ) via the fast-moving LEO satellites. Thales, meanwhile, will verify a 5G radio satellite payload suitable for deployment on LEO satellites, while Qualcomm Technologies plans to provide test phones verifying that 5G NTN is accessible to future 5G smartphones.
Although the three companies have not yet set a date for the launch of their first LEO satellites, they hope to deploy in the “next few years” and will inevitably seek to obtain dedicated satellite spectrum for their network.
Is satellite a viable solution for all countries?
At this point, the burgeoning LEO ecosystem is dominated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Initiative, but a growing number of companies are looking to enter the “low ground” economy – located between 150 km and 2,000 km above the ground. There are opportunities here to increase scale and reduce costs.
Ericsson Special Projects Manager Håkan Djuphammar said: “There is no G space at the moment, that would be the first. “LEO [satellites] reduced the distance traveled by the radio signal” and also made it “much cheaper to send a satellite. Development [of LEO] has been exponential in recent years, mainly because of SpaceX.
Historically speaking, space has actually been around for decades via large geostationary satellites (GSOs) that sit in a very high orbit, fixed above a certain point on earth. But apart from a few niche appsincluding cargo tracking and providing internet to military bases, this type of satellite connectivity has not been fast, reliable or responsive enough to compete with modern fiber or cable internet.
The concern remains, however, that while the LEO satellite boom will likely change the lives of customers who have struggled to high-speed Internet— it’s only possible if they can afford it. Therefore, it’s still unclear whether SpaceX’s Starlink availability in rural areas would be a viable choice. To put it into context, a Starlink subscription costs US$99 with a significant upfront expense.
Costs for things like the satellite dish and router are US$499, and this equipment is sold to customers at a loss. Although Musk has previously said he hopes those costs could get closer to US$250, it’s unclear when or if that might happen. For much of the rural world, in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, the price is simply too high. Whether or not prices can drop while speeds and service remain the same remains to be seen.