Satellite Networks: Enabling Ubiquitous 5G

Satellite Networks: Enabling Ubiquitous 5G

Eric Watko, Executive Vice President, Product, Marketing & Strategy, SES Networks

5G is not just a new technology. Instead, 5G is going to drastically transform the way consumers and businesses use telecommunications. However, ubiquitous 5G can only be attained with major network architectural changes where virtualization, automation and network slicing are key, making it easily adaptable to the specific requirements of mobile operators, enterprises and vertical industry segments. 

Satellite’s ability to deliver ubiquitous, high-quality connectivity means it will play a key role in the communications industry’s 5G transformation, enabling new business opportunities for mobile network operators (MNOs) and vertical service providers. In fact, our backhaul solutions already today support key criteria for 5G, including low latency, broad coverage and high reliability. 

To achieve the seamless integration of satellite capabilities into the 5G ecosystem, we are continuously working with standards bodies, R&D projects, public entities like ESA and EU, industry players, including MNOs, industry verticals and equipment vendors. This allows to advance development of open-standards, technologies and best practices around the role satellite will play in 5G networks.

Last month, we saw another important milestone at the 9th FOKUS FUSECO Forum event in Berlin. Like the first live demo, that took place earlier this year at the EuCNC 2018 conference in Ljubljana as part of the European Commission (EC) Horizon2020 SaT5G project, it greatly contributed to further development and validation of key principles for satellite integration within 5G networks. This new live demo at the FOKUS FUSECO Forum 2018 was successfully conducted as part of the SATis5 project which is funded under the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ARTES programme and is building an end-to-end 5G integrated network Proof-of-Concept testbed for satellite-terrestrial integration into 5G. 

The live demo platform featured fixed hubs of cutting-edge ESA-funded 5G routing equipment in Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg and SES’ satellite capability. Together with SATis5 consortium partners VT iDirect and Fraunhofer FOKUS, we showcased the smooth integration of satellite connectivity into a 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) network via a Software-Defined Networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC)-enabled 5G testbed. The demonstration also spotlighted efficient edge delivery and network slicing of enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) over satellite. 

Network slicing is of particular importance for 5G, as it will help optimise the use of the networks, improve performance and security, and bring the necessary level of cost efficiencies leading to the overall economic benefit. The 5G use cases will have different requirements in terms of functionality and performance. End-to-end Network Slicing, including satellite networking equipment like hubs and modems, will allow to serve these different use cases with optimal service level agreements: MNOs will be able to deliver better and more reliable services for less, playing into their strategy to remain competitive. 


Showcasing the integration of satellite into a 3GPP network at the 9th FOKUS FUSECO Forum event in Berlin. Picture credit: ESA / Maria Guta.

But demo tests alone are not enough to advance satellite integration into 5G. Instead, we need to further standardize the way satellite fits the architecture. Advancements on this front and ecosystem developments mean that satellite will open new avenues for commercial products and services, enabling MNOs to avail of the emerging business opportunities. 

In addition to the programs mentioned earlier, we are playing an active role in the 5G Infrastructure Association, ETSI, contributing innovation to the Linux Foundation and ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform), and are the first satellite operator that has achieved MEF Carrier Ethernet 2.0 Certification. Our compliance with this broadband standard makes it easier for MNOs to integrate satellite into their network infrastructure, leading to a seamless broadband experience for end users.  

Newer satellites that are being built are going to be more powerful, more flexible and have ubiquitous coverage, and this can only benefit the 5G ecosystem. In addition to our existing fleet of geostationary (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites, our next-generation MEO system, O3b mPOWER, will be 100% flexible. With more than 5,000 beams per satellite, the constellation will be 10 times more powerful than the current MEO, making it ideal for supporting large scale virtual fibre networking and a wider range of low-latency use cases.

Based on what we are hearing in the market and from our customers, we have good grounds to believe that we will see the first commercial applications for satellite integration into 5G already in 2020. But before we get there, the satellite industry will be busy partaking in demos such as SATis5 to validate use cases including broadband in remote areas, massive machine-to-machine IoT, communications on the move and much more. 

SES continues to invest in 5G by partaking in initiatives that will enable us to contribute to the roll out of a truly global next-generation data network that can serve key areas such as mobile backhaul and IoT, and allow us to open new, not yet identified or accessible to satellite markets.