5G is heading for space, marking a major milestone in the history of communications.
Ericsson has teamed up with French aerospace firm Thales and wireless technology innovator Qualcomm Technologies on a testing and validation collaboration to take 5G out of this world and across a network of Earth-orbiting satellites.
The parties plan to enter smartphone-use-case focused testing and validation of 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTN), having been given approval for satellite-driven 5G NTNs from the 3GPP global telecommunications standards’ body.
This follows detailed research by the companies, including multiple studies and simulations, that show 5G NTNs could contribute to the 5G revolution and take network resiliency and security to the next level.
The deployment of 5G networks is a game changer for communications, both in terms of business opportunities and the skills required to connect and protect billions of people and things.
But for 5G to fulfil on the promise of ubiquitous connectivity, it is “imperative that it can also deliver network coverage in areas where terrestrial cellular networks do not exist, whether that be over oceans or in remote areas”, says John Smee, SVP of engineering at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Future 5G smartphone could use 5G connectivity anywhere on the Earth
And that’s where 5G NTNs come in. This space-based network could effectively mean that no matter where you are on Earth – in the middle of an ocean or the remotest forest – high-end, secure, and cost-effective connectivity will be available through collaborative 5G satellite and terrestrial connectivity.
The benefits of 5G connectivity via low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are expected to include coverage in extreme geographies or remote areas across seas, oceans and other locations where terrestrial coverage is absent.
Such widespread connectivity would boost 5G smartphone subscriber roaming service capabilities and enable global connectivity for transportation, energy and health sector 5G use cases. The space-based network could also be used as back-up support to terrestrial networks in the event of major network outages or disasters.
The expected security capabilities of 5G NTNs mean that national government communications may be a main use case, to enhance safe and secure national security and public safety government networks.
How the testing and validation collaboration will work
The testing and validation by Ericsson, Thames and Qualcomm Technologies will kick off with initial tests taking place in an emulated space environment in France, where most of the European space-focused industry is based.
The goal of the testing is to validate various technology components needed to enable 5G non-terrestrial networks, including a 5G smartphone, satellite payload and 5G network pieces on the ground. The work also aims to validate that 5GN NTN can be supported in a smartphone form factor allowing tomorrow’s 5G smartphone to effectively become a satellite phone.
It is too early to say when any resulting 5G equipped prototype satellite could be launched into orbit for real operational use, however.