Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales are taking 5G to space

Author: Editorial
event 11.07.2022.
Foto: Shutterstock

Ericsson, French aerospace company Thales, and wireless technology innovator Qualcomm Technologies, plan to launch 5G into space and provide full global coverage through a network of satellites orbiting the Earth.

The parties intend to test and validate 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTN) using smartphone use cases following extensive research by each company, including several studies and simulations.

As a result, a future 5G smartphone may be able to use 5G connectivity anywhere on Earth and offer full worldwide coverage for wideband data services, even in regions that are often only covered by older satellite phone systems with limited data connectivity capabilities.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite-based 5G connectivity is anticipated to provide coverage in extreme geographies or remote areas across seas, oceans, and other places where terrestrial coverage is lacking or absent.

Such widespread connectivity should improve the capabilities of 5G roaming services and enable global connectivity for 5G use cases in the transportation, energy, and health sectors.

The space-based network might also be used as a backup support system for terrestrial networks in case of major network disruptions or outages.

National government communications may be a primary use case for 5G NTNs due to its expected security features, which would enhance safe and secure national security and public safety government networks.

Erik Ekudden, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Ericsson, states: “This testing and validation cooperation between Ericsson, Thales and Qualcomm Technologies will be a major milestone in the history of communications as the ultimate result could effectively mean that no matter where you are on Earth – in the middle of an ocean or the remotest forest – high-end, secure and cost-effective connectivity will be available through collaborative 5G satellite and terrestrial connectivity.”

John Smee, senior vice president of engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., says: “For 5G to fulfill on the promise of ubiquitous connectivity, it is imperative that it can also deliver network coverage in areas where terrestrial cellular networks do not exist, whether that be over oceans or in remote areas. Our planned research with Ericsson and Thales will kick off an important step in making this vital technology a reality. We are looking forward to what this collaboration can accomplish.”

Philippe Keryer, Executive Vice-President, Strategy, Research and Technology, Thales adds: “The deployment of 5G networks marks a step change for the telecoms industry. It is a game changer, not only in terms of business opportunities but also in the skills required to connect and protect billions of people and things. Thales is deeply involved in it through the different activities of the Group. ​ The research collaboration with Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies will demonstrate the belief of our companies that 5G non-terrestrial Networks will contribute to this revolution and will take network resiliency and security to the next level.”

Cooperation details

Following approval by the 3GPP – the organisation that oversees global telecommunications standards – in March 2022, Ericsson, Thales, and Qualcomm will test and validate the technology aimed at supporting non-terrestrial networks for the first time ever.

The purpose of the testing will be to validate a variety of technology elements, including a 5G smartphone, satellite payload, and 5G network pieces on the ground, required to enable 5G NTNs.

This research also seeks to demonstrate that 5G NTN can be supported in smartphone form, making the 5G smartphone of the future essentially a satellite phone. Initial tests will be conducted in an emulated space environment in France, which is the headquarters of the majority of Europe’s space-focused industry.

Ericsson will verify a 5G virtual RAN (vRAN) stack, which has been upgraded to handle radio signals propagating (what happens to 5G radio waves travelling through Earth’s atmosphere and the space vacuum), using fast-moving LEO satellites. Qualcomm Technologies plans to supply test phones to confirm that 5G NTN can indeed be accessed by future 5G smartphones, and Thales plans to verify a 5G radio satellite payload suitable for deployment on LEO satellites.

Experts will simulate the 5G radio propagation and time delays between an equipped orbiting satellite and connecting a 5G smartphone with the 5G radio access network at various locations on the earth’s surface using ground-based equipment. ​

While it is too early to say when any resulting 5G equipped prototype satellite could be launched into orbit for real operational use, the highly technical ground-based testing and validation work planned between Ericsson, Thales and Qualcomm Technologies is key to making it happen.

Erik Ekudden, Ericsson

5G NTNs will be able to benefit from a vast ecosystem of standardised goods and components as a 3GPP-backed technology. In addition, the new specification makes it possible for NTN technologies to be incorporated into 5G devices, giving vendors the chance to swiftly and easily scale 5G NTN compatibility across devices.


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