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Tech Science

5G may usher in next wave of satellite communications

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By augmenting fifth generation (5G) mobile networks with next-generation satellite capabilities, satellite operators have an opportunity to become a major player in the emerging 5G ecosystem.

Sluggish speeds, high latency and lower reliability compared to traditional fiber and digital subscriber line (DSL) options have restricted satellite’s role to being a provider last resort, relegated to serve ultra-rural areas beyond the reach of other technologies.

However, with the advent of upgraded satellite technology, the capacity and performance requirements are expected to be addressed in the 5G era. The standards governing true 5G services, likely to be ready to deploy by Q3 2018, are much more ‘satellite-friendly’ than previous Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and 3G networks.

The next generations of satellites high throughput satellites (HTS) are being built on open architectures. They are much more flexible and easier to integrate into 5G networks. With HTS, satellite operators can expand beyond rural broadband and become an integral part of the 5G ecosystem.

HTS deployments are going to be dramatically less expensive than prior generations of satellite due to a combination of factors including new advances in launch vehicles, miniaturization of components and correspondingly lower power consumption.

Meanwhile, regulators are anxiously searching for opportunities to clear spectrum bands for 5G and satellite communications. For example, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently granted the application of Higher Ground for a blanket earth station license to operate up to 50,000 earth stations, known as SatPaqs, to communicate with the multiple US-licensed satellites.

Hunt concludes: By augmenting 5G with next-generation satellite capabilities, satellite operators have an opportunity to become a major player in the emerging 5G ecosystem. The timing may be just right open network architectures, coupled by a broad spirit of cooperation between satellite, wireless and fixed operators may help usher in the next wave of satellite communications.

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