The European Space Agency (ESA) and Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) entered into a three-year strategic partnership to develop ways of integrating terrestrial 5G networks with satellite.
VTT lauded the partnership as a way to make sure 5G is truly ubiquitous. (It also viewed the new ESA deal, not unreasonably, as a vote of confidence in Finnish Space Strategy. ESA already has close ties with the Finnish non-profit organisation, but the 5G partnership means even closer collaboration.)
Maria Guta, a Senior Telecommunication Systems Engineer from ESA, said satellite integration of this sort was “vital”, not only for growth in the commercial space industry, but also supporting commercially-viable 5G use cases in hard-to-reach places.
“Our intent is to encourage European space and non-space industry to make use of the live trial platforms that VTT have developed, which are necessary to enable and demonstrate satellite/5G integration,” she said.
Ground control to 5G
VTT and ESA said they were examining the requirements and necessary technologies for integrating 5G satellite networks with terrestrial networks, and how common use of 5G ‘pioneer’ bands might play out in practice. The aim of VTT and ESA is to implement several projects within the three-year timeframe of the partnership.
One use case flagged by ESA and VTT was autonomous and remotely-controlled ships operating far away from the shore. This type of application, they said, was a key part of development work together.
"Satellite connectivity is needed particularly in areas where it would not be economically feasible to build terrestrial networks, such as sparsely populated or distant areas, including the sea, air traffic or frontier areas,” said Marko Höyhtyä, a VTT team leader.
The two companies were adamant on the wider importance of their collaboration. Integration of satellite and terrestrial networks, they said, would “benefit the whole society, since even many everyday services are based on data produced by satellites”. The systems being developed, they added, could be used anywhere where communications systems or positioning services might be needed.
Harnessing satellite capabilities for the benefit of terrestrial 5G players appears to be picking up industry momentum.
GlobalData, an analytics company, highlights next-gen high throughput satellites (HTS), which have greater coverage and capacity than older satellites, as being highly suited when it comes to integration with 5G infrastructure.
In June 2017, London-based Avanti Communications won an €8.3 million contract to take the lead in integrating satellite communications into Europe’s 5G networks as the named coordinator of the Satellite & Terrestrial Network for 5G (SaT5G) project.
The SaT5G consortium has 16 partners, including BT, Airbus Defence and Space, Thales Alenia Space France and a range of educational institutions. The SaT5G project will also incorporate the input of various mobile network operators. The project is scheduled for completion at the end of 2019 and requires Avanti to research, develop and validate key technologies to that end.