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Eutelsat’s OneWeb LEO Broadband Satellites Test 5G Mobile Connection

Thursday, Oct 19th, 2023 (11:33 am) - Score 1,368
OneWeb-Eutelsat-LEO-Satellite-GEN1

Eutelsat OneWeb has announced that its global constellation of ultrafast broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has, via a demonstration that was set up in Surrey (England), successfully connected to a 5G mobile network as part of a pilot. But the technical details of this test remain unclear.

The operator has already launched 634 of their small (c.150kg) first generation (GEN1) Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellites into space – orbiting at an altitude of 1,200km above the Earth (588 of them for coverage and the rest for redundancy). The network was technically completed in March 2023 (here) and promises both ultrafast speeds and fast latency times. But some work (e.g. ground stations) still needs to be completed before full global coverage goes live by the end of 2023.

NOTE: UK ISP BT are currently working with OneWeb on a rural broadband trial (here and here).

However, it’s long been the plan that the network could also be used to help spread 5G mobile coverage. The development of just such a 5G connectivity project, which would involve the 5G/6G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey (5G/6GIC), was announced last year (here) and we’re now seeing the outcome of that pilot.

According to the blurb, the University of Surrey tested a 5G mobile network by connecting Surrey’s 5G core to a cell site through the LEO constellation. Just to be clear, this isn’t the same approach as Starlink or AST Space Mobile are using, where the satellites can directly connect to existing Smartphones. The picture below makes clear that OneWeb’s approach is more about providing the backhaul (capacity) for 5G cells, which is still useful.

OneWeb-for-5G-Backhaul-team-photo

The researchers tested video conferencing calls, video streaming, gaming, virtual and augmented reality content, and simple web browsing. The tests also highlighted a seamless, smooth handover between the LEO network and terrestrial networks, delivering a smooth 5G connectivity experience to users.

Eutelsat OneWeb, part of Eutelsat Group, which includes the UK Government as one of its strategic shareholders, recently signed a deal with Telstra in Australia to backhaul their 4G and 5G networks. We may well see other deals like this in the future.

Barry Evans, Professor of Satellite Communications at the 6G/5GIC, said:

“It was thrilling to see no degradation when using the 5G connection made possible by the LEO constellation. This is a step closer to increasing internet access for more people around the world – a privilege that many of us take for granted.

The work performed in the 5G pilot tests has demonstrated the feasibility of 5G backhaul over LEO satellites.”

Sadly, no technical details of the test’s performance or setup were revealed, although past tests have shown that a single connection can reach download speeds of 195Mbps, with uploads of 32Mbps and latency times of down to 70ms (milliseconds). Quite how this will translate when serving backhaul for a 5G mobile network, which is likely to have many users, is as yet unclear.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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