What Is 5G about?
5G is set to radically transform our lives. If 4G was essentially about higher throughput and capacity, 5G will push these boundaries further to enable newer types of applications and services in the domains of health, transport, entertainment, machine-to-machine communications, and security, to name just a few.
5G will lead to a huge shift towards a landscape dominated by wireless connectivity. Major architectural changes are already taking place to accompany this shift. Virtualization is key. Architectures leveraging Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN), both at the core and edge of the network, are being deployed. They will provide increased computing power, scalability, reduced operation costs, and creative business models to enable differentiation.
Impact of 5G on Satellite
Satellite communications will be an essential part of the 5G infrastructure. The satellite transport conduit will be integrated into the overall available communication map. Service providers will need to provide seamless connectivity between terrestrial and satellite. Traffic will be dynamically steered to the best transport options available according to bandwidth, latency, network conditions and other application-specific requirements. A suite of orchestrators will make this steering decision. This interworking between terrestrial and satellite is now well recognized and promoted in the 3GPP standards, for example.
Full integration within the virtualized architecture will apply to satellite as well, beginning with the network core and then expanding to the edge. Management of the NFV infrastructure will be performed through a MANagement and Orchestration (MANO) framework.
This architecture allows easy integration of multiple applications. A virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) application could extend local call switching possibilities. A Mobile (or Multi-Access) Edge Computing (MEC) platform could host different applications like caching and multicast which can help reduce latency and improve Quality of Experience (QoE) for the users.
Quality of Service (QoS) and Operational Expense (OpEx) will also remain key as the landscape becomes even more competitive. New opportunities for extending satellite services in urban and rural areas will emerge; for covering white zones and ensuring a seamless connectivity plan, for emergency services, for broadcast/multicast and network offload schemes, for aero and maritime mobility, for connected cars (software download), and for mobile backhaul. Newer Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations will further expand the reach of satellite communications.
3GPP Release 15 has recently defined the architecture. The Radio Access Network (RAN) is now a service-based architecture where flexibility and dynamic adjustments are key drivers to meet performance and cost requirements. The architecture defines network functions which can be triggered by other services, leveraging virtualization and network slicing. Release 15 also supports the deployment of application functions, as required for MEC.
Additionally, the RAN has evolved into a Cloud RAN or Centralized RAN (C-RAN) where the base stations are split into Remote Radio Heads (RRHs) and Baseband Units (BBUs), with thousands of RRHs connecting to a centralized and virtualized BBU pool. This allows large scale deployments and open networks where any BBU can theoretically offer its services to any other BBU pool or RRH.
One of the main goals of 5G is to reach ultralow latency along with highest efficiency. This requires a greater separation between the control plane and user plane, and for the RAN network functionality to be split accordingly. However, this will only be better specified in 3GPP Release 16.
These specifications will also trickle down to satellite, including the search for lower latency solutions with many use-cases involving applications deployed at the edge of the network. 3GPP Release 14 looked into satellite deployment scenarios, Release 16 will lead a study to identify use cases for the provision of services with satellite integrated in the 5G system.
When Should We Expect This?
2018 is the earliest date that major telco infrastructure vendors are planning to showcase the technology on a wider scale. It may reach the satellite world a bit later but knowing how fast the world went from 3G to 4G over satellite, and considering the fact that satellite must be inserted into the global virtualized architecture, it would not be surprising if 5G over satellite catches on much earlier than expected!
Newtec and 5G
Newtec has signed a joint statement with the European Space Agency (ESA) and a number of industrial companies to carry out trials. These will demonstrate the use of satellite communications capabilities integrated and interoperable in the 5G environment, achieve interoperability of networks and demonstrate the functionality, performance and benefits brought by the use of satellite. A first phase will leverage existing space and ground segment assets and newer developments will be trialed after 2019.
Newtec is also a key player in the Satis5 initiative which aims to provide a testbed showcasing major technology progress and demonstrating the benefits of satellite technology for the main 5G use cases. The testbed includes live, over the air GEO and MEO satellite connectivity, in addition to laboratory emulations and simulations, and uses a federation of terrestrial locations. The activity drives the full integration of satellite in 5G through open and standard solutions, facilitated primarily through 3GPP standardization.
All these initiatives leverage the Newtec Dialog® platform which enables the high efficiency, high performance, virtualization and multiservice capability paramount for 5G.
Newtec is committed to continuing to shape the future of satellite communications, reinforcing its key position in a globally connected 5G world.