January 27, 2021

Understanding the 5G Opportunity

5G Opportunity

It feels like we’ve been talking about 5G for a very long time, but we’re finally starting to see the deployment of this revolutionary technology that will have a transformative effect on connectivity as we know it. To date, 5G has been deployed in 24 markets and a further 79 operators in 39 markets have announced plans for 5G services. Meanwhile, there has been significant work going on behind the scenes to ensure that satellite is viewed as an essential part of the 5G technology portfolio.
5G Opportunity - WTA Webinar
Following his participation in last week’s WTA webinar: Teleports and the 5G Opportunity, Semir Hassanaly, our Head of Cellular Backhaul and Trunking, gives his insight on some of the main points raised.

Is satellite more competitive today?

The emergence of High Throughput Satellites combined with the smaller terminals in Ku and Ka-band has contributed to satellite’s increased competitiveness. Additionally, in bandwidth sharing network deployments, extremely efficient, dynamic access technologies play a key role in contributing to more cost-effective services.

Moving ahead, there will be increased virtualization and continued launch of new LEO and MEO constellations along with innovations on the ground where the cost per bit is further reduced. We can expect to see growth in smallsats, with lower cost of manufacturing and lower cost of launch, but they won’t necessarily facilitate satellite backhaul. However, these factors combined increase satellite competitiveness and widen its application remit in the market today.

What’s all the hype about 5G in the satellite service business? 

5G mandates an open architecture which leverages cloud, virtualization and edge computing. It means that you are going to be able to easily unlock new applications and services which will extend the reach of satellite, through interoperating with the terrestrial world, through lower cost of CAPEX and OPEX.

We already see demand for applications in the traditional backhaul space driven by the move to 5G, but also in the mobility and the content delivery space such as edge computing for gaming and video streaming for example.

Another reason for the hype is that the 3GPP Project Group, whose standard constitutes the core architecture for 5G is incorporating non-terrestrial networks into its study and specifications that will make satellite more mainstream than it is now.

An influx of new LEO and MEO satellites, High Altitude Platform Solutions (HAPS) and other earth observation constellations are fueling new applications such as IoT. Let’s also not forget about the NewSpace newcomers such as Amazon, Starlink and Microsoft Azure. Add to this the companies that are developing 5G for direct access to satellite from your IoT sensor or even from your mobile device and it becomes apparent the satellite ecosystem is growing

5G becomes a unifying platform. It offers significant business to be captured, and it is the combination of these new services and satellite constellations along with 5G technology which is creating all this excitement.

What about adoption of 5G?

“5G becomes a unifying platform. It offers significant business to be captured, and it is the combination of these new services and satellite constellations along with 5G technology which is creating all this excitement.”

There is consensus that there will be a co-existence of 4G and 5G for some time and that a good portion of 5G deployments will leverage non-standalone base stations for at least the next 3 years.

There is a disparity in adoption from continent to continent, from country to country and from region to region. Countries such as China and Korea already have 5G over satellite at the forefront of their minds. Others are moving rapidly towards 5G such as the United States, which is preparing to shut down its 3G service. In Africa, there are still a large amount of 2G networks and, though there are increasing amounts of 4G where some regions are leapfrogging 3G, 5G is far from their minds. 5G is not yet a universal driving force for the upgrade from 2G to 4G.

What are you realistically expecting from the 5G opportunity over the next three years? 

We will play a big part in the 5G fabric through our architectural and deployment choices and  we believe that 5G will be very pervasive, with applications not only in backhaul and trunking, but also in all the other verticals in which we are involved with today – in aero, maritime and land mobility, in enterprise and broadband, in government and defense and in IP content distribution.

At ST Engineering iDirect, we have been involved in 5G from the outset. We have been involved in 3GPP standards as well as specific 5G projects such a Satis5 (a 5G test bed for terrestrial and satellite interoperability), and Sat5G where we developed a 3GPP solution for seamless roaming. We’ve also become involved in newer projects, both in R&D and more commercial for 5G on-board maritime vessels, for example. We are engaged with MNOs and non-MNOs and non-backhaul customers for 5G. We also successfully achieved the world’s first demonstration of 5G over a LEO satellite. This involvement will increase significantly over time, for both backhaul and non-backhaul. In the near future, we will see more testbeds and proof of concepts, resulting in real deployments.

If you are interested in learning more about ST Engineering iDirect’s 5G advances, we’d urge you to check out our whitepaper and our 5G page.