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Ericsson, Thales team for 5G satellites

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Ericsson is teaming up with Thales and Qualcomm on a satellite network to provide 5G to smartphones on the ground.

After multiple studies and simulations, the three companies plan to test and validate the use of 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTN) at a lab in France.

This would allow future 5G smartphones to connect directly to satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) anywhere on Earth to provide complete global coverage for wideband data services, including places normally only covered by legacy satellite phone systems with limited data connectivity capabilities.

The space-based network could also be used as back-up support to terrestrial networks in the event of major network outages or disasters. The expected security capabilities of 5G NTNs mean that national government communications may be a main use case, to enhance safe and secure national security and public safety government networks.

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The goal of the testing will be to validate various technology components needed to enable 5G non-terrestrial networks, including a 5G smartphone, satellite payload and 5G network pieces on the ground.

The work also aims to validate that 5G NTN can be supported in a smartphone form factor allowing tomorrow’s 5G smartphone to effectively become a satellite-phone. Initial tests will take place in an emulated space environment in France, where the majority of European space-focused industry is based.  

Ericsson plans to verify a 5G virtual RAN (vRAN) stack, modified to handle radio signals propagating via the fast-moving LEO satellites.

Thales plans to verify a 5G radio satellite payload suitable for deployment on LEO satellites, while Qualcomm Technologies plans to provide test phones verifying that 5G NTN can be accessed by future 5G smartphones.

A new specification by the 3GPP standards body enables the inclusion of NTN technologies in 5G devices, providing opportunities for technology vendors to easily and quickly scale 5G NTN compatibility across devices.

“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,” said Philippe Keryer, Executive Vice-President, Strategy, Research and Technology, Thales. “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. “

“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,” said Erik Ekudden, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Ericsson.

John Smee, senior vice president of engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, 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.”

“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,” said Ekudden.

Other startups are working on 5G satellite networks for smartphones and IoT applications.

www.ericsson.com; www.thales.com; www.qualcomm.com

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