Planning a Satellite 5G Future

By Adam Bennett, Product Marketing Manager, VT iDirect

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The future of telecommunications is bright, with projections for total global IP traffic to rise 24%1 year-after-year and mobile data traffic to accelerate at even faster 47%2 year-after-year. Rapid growth is expected for the foreseeable future because people are insatiable in their desire for connectivity.

Fiber and cellular alone won’t satisfy all the need. Satellites can also play a critical role in enabling a global connectivity. High Throughput GEO and new MEO and LEO constellations are dramatically expanding satellite capacity that can help absorb this growth.

To gain fullest advantage of this opportunity, satellite service providers must undergo a transformation, becoming part of the converged solution in a seamlessly integrated world. Customers expect a blend of connectivity options, seamlessly transitioning between Wi-Fi, cellular, and VSAT coverage as they move from place to place. They want personalized services that are highly adaptable as they change applications. And they don’t want to wait weeks or days to activate services.

This means satellite service providers will need to achieve new levels of agility and partner closely with other access networks. This is no small task, as satellite communication has tended to exist through separate networks relying on manual processes and isolated management structures. At the same time, satellite service providers will need to find ways to incorporate these expanded capabilities while lowering operating costs to make satellite competitive on a broader scale.

Fortunately, satellite service providers are not the only ones trying to become more agile while lowering costs. Global telecom is working on a plan to resolve the same challenge through the development of the next generation of cellular networks, called 5G. Although not expected to be deployed until the early 2020’s, the telecom industry hopes that 5G will become a master wireless platform, able to merge mobile cellular, fixed broadband, and local area networks into one converged solution.

5G is relevant to satellite communications in several ways. First, the satellite industry can learn from the underlying technologies instead of trying to invent proprietary solutions. Second, satellite networks will need to support 5G data and management interfaces in order offer viable 5G extensions through broadband and backhaul VSAT links. Third, satellite has opportunity to become part of a multi-access solution and enter new markets, such as connected cars capable of receiving both cellular and VSAT.

The telecom industry is building the 5G revolution upon technologies such as network programmability, function virtualization, and service orchestration. Satellite service providers can align with this vision by adopting the same foundational principles and exchange inflexible, hardware-based networks for reconfigurable, software-based networks. Toward that end, iDirect has started researching how to best incorporate these principles within a standardized satellite architecture.

The goal is to make satellite as easy to integrate into broader telecom networks as any other 5G compliant technology, so VSAT becomes a true “plug-and-play” solution. This requires cross-industry collaboration and unified standardization that brings satellite into the emerging 5G architectural domain. Join us as we participate in international organizations such as the EU’s Satellite and Terrestrial Network for 5G (SaT5G) program, ESA’s Satellite for 5G initiative, European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to make this a reality.

To help demystify the claims around 5G and better relate it to our satellite world, we’ve gathered information on a centralized webpage and created a series of video tutorials to educate our community about the underlying technologies. Please go to IntelligentPathForward.com/Satellite-5G to start planning for your satellite 5G future. Working together, we’ll guide satellite into a new era of opportunity.

1 Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016–2021 White Paper. Cisco, March 2017.

2 The Zettabyte Era: Trends and Analysis. Cisco, June 2017.

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