future view

Mobile communication anytime and anywhere using satellite signals

18 July 2019 • 3 min reading time

If you need access to a fast and efficient mobile service where standard networks are unavailable, you may soon be able to connect to the terrestrial 5G network via a satellite. Various parties will need to work closely together to make this possible, which is why TNO is organizing a seminar where the relevant stakeholders can meet each other on 30 September and 1 October.

5G Satcom seminar

TNO is organizing the 5G Satcom seminar in The Hague on 30 September and 1 October.

Register here

Cellular communication networks cannot provide coverage everywhere in the world, and this can be an issue for some users. For example, the purchaser of a container of meat being shipped from Buenos Aires to Rotterdam might want to remotely check the temperature of the products while the vessel is in the middle of the ocean, but this is currently impossible. A combination of a heat sensor, the ‘Internet of Things’ and a satellite link to the 5G network could solve this problem.

Transmitting television images

There are plenty of other applications for the combination of satellite communications and the super high-speed 5G network that will soon replace the current 4G. For example, a hiker in distress in a remote area would be able to contact a rescue service, and television cameras could transmit images via satellite.

“A hiker in distress in a remote area would be able to contact a rescue service”

If a communication tower is damaged in a natural disaster, emergency services and others will need to stay in contact, preferably using their standard devices. Although satellite networks currently facilitate this, they require the use of a special satellite telephone which the user may be unfamiliar with. This is especially undesirable during an emergency situation.

Global coverage

Optel-u, laser optical module for LEO to ground station communication, developed by TNO in collaboration with NEDINSCO (photo: Henri Werij)

Integrating 5G and satellite communication could provide global coverage for standard mobile phones. For this purpose, networks of hundreds of Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will be used. These operate with the same radio interface technology as the terrestrial 5G base stations. Because satellites travel quickly and can only communicate within a given area for a limited period of time, successive satellites will need to be able to pass on the mobile phone connection from one to the next. TNO is developing Inter-Satellite Links that use laser beams to do just that.

“TNO is developing laser optical communication for Inter-Satellite Links between satellites”

In order to use the available radio frequencies as efficiently as possible, a 5G satellite will be equipped with an array antenna which transmits many beams, each covering a separate part of the earth. These beams can be steered, so that a single beam can cover the same area for longer, even while the satellite is flying high above the earth at great speed. TNO has gained extensive experience of using these antennas for radar applications and is applying this experience to developing array antennas for satellite networks.

Technical modifications

Satellite communications fail when there are obstacles between a telephone and the satellite. This problem can be overcome using a ‘relay’. For example, a container deep in the hold of a ship can connect to a device on another container on the deck that does have a clear line of sight to the satellite.

“Satellite communications fail when there are obstacles between a telephone and the satellite; this can be overcome using a relay”

TNO has helped build a network to test the link between the 5G network and the satellites. This will make it possible to study the effect of the delay that occurs when communicating with satellites flying far above the earth’s surface. Smart modifications to the applications and data protocols should minimize the effect of that delay.

5G Satcom seminar

Of course, the technical adjustments to support satellite communication will have to be carefully coordinated with other users of the 5G standards. To this end, commercial providers, government agencies and knowledge institutes are working together in the 3GPP standardization forum to set specifications for the integration of 5G and satellite communications.

The standardization process is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), among others in the ARTES ALIX project. TNO plays an active role in this partnership and is encouraging other parties to become active in the standardization of satellite 5G.

In addition to the standardization of technology, it is essential for the providers of satellite communications and terrestrial mobile communications to meet with each other and their customers to discuss how the technology can be applied. With this aim in mind, TNO is organizing the 5G Satcom seminar in The Hague on 30 September and 1 October. More information about this meeting can be found at www.5gsatcom.nl. We strongly recommend that all stakeholders attend!

More information?

Would you like to learn more about the combination of satellite communications and 5G? Please contact Toon Norp.

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