Ericsson, French aerospace company Thales and wireless technology innovator Qualcomm Technologies plan to take 5G out of this world and through a network of satellites orbiting Earth.
After each conducting detailed research, which included multiple studies and simulations, the parties plan to initiate testing and validation focused on 5G Non-Terrestrial Network (5G NTN) smartphone use cases.
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 phone systems. via satellite with limited data connectivity capabilities.
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 places where land coverage is absent. Such pervasive connectivity would bolster the roaming capabilities of 5G smartphone subscribers, while enabling global connectivity for 5G use cases in transportation, energy, and healthcare.
The space network could also be used as a backup medium to terrestrial networks in the event of major network failures or disasters. The security capabilities expected from 5G RTNs mean that national government communications can be a primary use case, to enhance national security and government public safety networks.
Testing and validation by Ericsson, Thales and Qualcomm Technologies following the March 2022 green light from 3GPP – the global telecommunications standards body – is intended to support non-terrestrial networks for the first time.
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 allowing tomorrow’s 5G smartphone to 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.
Ericsson plans to test 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 Earth’s atmosphere) via fast-moving LEO satellites .
Thales plans to 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 by future 5G smartphones.
Experts will use ground-based equipment to emulate 5G radio propagation and the delays between an equipped satellite in orbit and the connection of a 5G smartphone to the 5G radio access network at different locations on the Earth’s surface.
As a 3GPP-backed technology, 5G NTNs will be able to capitalize on a large ecosystem of standardized products and components. The new specification also enables the inclusion of NTN technologies in 5G devices, giving technology vendors the ability to easily and quickly extend 5G NTN compatibility between devices.