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SaT5G Integrates Commercial 5G Mobile and Live Satellite Network

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 (3:01 am) - Score 864
5g_satellite_mobile_broadband_uk

The Satellite and Terrestrial Network for 5G (SaT5G) project, supported by various UK telecoms operators like BT, Avanti and €8.3m of EU funding, has for the first time successfully managed to integrate a standard commercially available 5G core (mobile broadband) network into a live Satellite network.

Naturally there are a lot of situations where high capacity terrestrial networks are unable to connect with Mobile networks, such as on ships at sea, via aircraft or in very remote rural communities etc. Often in those situations it’s necessary to have a Satellite connection that can manage the traffic (backhaul) for mobile cells. Existing 3G and 4G networks can already do some of this, but SaT5G has been working to go further with the latest 5G networks and develop new standards.

The good news is that several 5G use case demonstrations over live satellite links have now been performed, with the satellite links performing several different tasks. The project undertook research and demonstrated the benefit of satellite technology in delivering content to the network edge; providing backhaul to cellular base-stations, improving broadband experience to premises, and providing connectivity to aircraft and moving platforms through emulated GEO (geostationary earth orbit) and over-the-air MEO (medium earth orbit) satellite connectivity.

Two key technological advances in 5G are the virtualization of network functions (VNFs) and the use of end-to-end slices providing network services with specified quality of service (QoS). The SaT5G project was able to design and deploy several satellite-specific VNFs on OpenStack and Kubernetes, and developed an integrated architecture which allows satellite links to carry network slices seamlessly.

SaT5G_diagram

Utilising Avanti’s GEO HYLAS-4 live broadband satellite capacity, ST Engineering iDirect’s 5G-enabled Intelligent Gateway (iGW) satellite ground infrastructure provided the satellite connectivity for the University of Surrey (5GIC) 5G testbed. The integrated 5G Non-Terrestrial-Network (NTN), consisted of a remote terminal installed at 5GIC, which connected over the live satellite to the 5G-enabled ST Engineering iDirect hub installed at Avanti’s ground earth station at Goonhilly.

The satellite connection continues to use the native satellite radio at the physical layer. Meanwhile the 5G-enabled Intelligent Hub gateway included physical network functions for terminating the native satellite connection along with a satellite RAN and a standard, and unmodified, commercially available 5G core network, both of which were virtualised.

Simon Watts, SaT5G Project Director (Avanti), said:

“Many new developments were made within the SaT5G project to create world leading prototype solutions for the integration of satellite connectivity in to 5G terrestrial networks, laying foundations for the creation of new products and services.

These services are likely to depend on the management and orchestration of satellite capacity to allow the Mobile Network Operators to deliver 5G services to their end users. The experience gained within SaT5G will allow Avanti to develop its cellular backhaul solution to include integrated 5G satellite connectivity.”

Developing a cost-effective and plug-and-play style solution to integrate satellite communications with 5G networks has not been easy but they appear to have achieved what they set out to do in 2017. Admittedly you won’t get the best broadband speeds or latency times from traditional satellites, but it will be interesting to see how this adapts as the new generation of ultrafast Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations grow from SpaceX, OneWeb and others (we’ve already seen a working LEO 5G satellite link before, which was done via Telesat and Vodafone).

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