Satellite Services for a 5G Future

Satellite Services for a 5G Future

The Critical Role For Satellite In A 5G Environment

Why even mention satellite in a 5G context? VSAT is slow, expensive and has a latency problem – right? Maybe not. If you still remember the satellite networks of the 1980’s and 1990’s then that was true – however today this is just a myth and no longer valid. Extensive and fundamental developments in space networks and ground equipment have changed the landscape completely. Satellites available over Africa will soon be capable of 1Tbps capacity and LEO constellations will deliver connectivity at less than 0msec latencies.

5G Network Introduction:

In the 5G ecosystem, satellite broadband and satellite networks will have a key role to play. As a reference we will consider the ITU definition of the key elements i.e. enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine type communication and ultra-reliable low-latency (<1msec) communication.

Add to this the understanding that 5G is not just a “next-generation” mobile
network standard, rather a “network-of-networks” that will drive growth
through the connected world of IoT, always-on broadband, smart cities and connected cars.

It integrates Wi-Fi, mobile, fiber, terrestrial wireless and satellite internet access networks. In this hyper-connected world, satellite has the following key features that will drive and support this connected world, in essence.:

  • Ubiquity,
  • Mobility,
  • Simultaneous broadcast
  • Security.

5G “Network Of Networks” Illustration:

Leveraging these key attributes, satellite and VSAT networks can support the following key usage scenarios for 5G:

Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)

Satellites already provide high bandwidth distribution for HD and UHD television networks and this will further be expanded with the planned mega-GEO satellites with 1Tbps capabilities and augmented with the LEO constellation.

Current satellite internet distribution networks are a proven solution for distribution and are servicing the existing mobile backhaul networks in many parts of the world for 2G/3G. This will be expanded with the new high-throughput GEO satellites that will support 4G and 5G mobile networks.

Massive Machine-type Communication (mMTC)

With their known high reliability and truly anywhere connectivity strengths, satellite networks are already providing winning SCADA and global control network solutions which can readily be scaled to the planned future machine-to-machine and Internet-of-things applications.

This will further be strengthened and multiplied when the LEO microsatellite constellations and technologies from companies such as Hiber, SpaceQuest, HawkEyey are supported by developments in smaller, lower cost, electronically steerable systems to grow into mainstream applications in the 5G “network-of-networks” ecosystem.

Ultra-reliable Communications (URLLC)

Current satellite broadband customers, government network operators, broadcasters, mobile network operators and all other satellite users acknowledge the ultra-reliable nature of satellite communication. When mission critical communications are needed, then satellite is the 1st choice for solutions architects.

While the current latency of GEO satellites (500msec round trip) is acceptable for many 5G applications, this will further be improved by the developing MEO and LEO constellations with sub- 50msec latencies.

Satellites for sub-1msec Latency

The 5G requirement for sub-1msec latency is a challenge for even mobile networks. According to GSMA Intelligence, Understanding 5G” (December 2014), “Achieving the sub-1ms latency rate… will likely prove to be a significant undertaking in terms of technological development and investment in infrastructure.” “[S]ervices requiring a delay time of less than 1 millisecond must have all of their content served from a physical position very close to the user’s device. … possibly at the base of every cell, including the many small cells that are predicted to be fundamental to meeting densification requirements.”

Thus, satellites can help 5G networks achieve sub-1ms latency by multi-casting content to caches located at individual cells, even in places without fiber. “Paradoxically, the low latency requirement for 5G network is a big ally in this vertical for satcom as many new locations for content servers will be required. In the transition to 5G, content needs to be moved to the edge and many new locations will be required, densifying CDN networks and making satellite multicast a viable option.”


In the planned global “connected-future”, the 5G “network of networks” architecture will continue to develop and grow with the initial successes spearheaded by the mobile network operators. As the requirements expand to more fully address the key 5G elements i.e. enhanced mobile broadband
(eMBB), massive machine type communication (mMTC) and ultra-reliable low-latency (<1msec) communication (ULRC), all networks will begin to be integrated.

The demand to meet these key elements will map effectively into the current and planned advances in LEO, MEO and GEO satellite constellations to develop global connected environments that effectively leverage all technology advances.

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