Tag Archive for: 5G

On May 10, AT&T submitted a regulatory request to lease wireless spectrum to AST SpaceMobile for the purpose of connecting smartphones in the United States to AST SpaceMobile’s planned satellite constellation. The agreement between the two companies includes the majority of AT&T’s low-band frequencies, which AST SpaceMobile intends to utilize to enhance AT&T’s coverage nationwide.

To enable wireless transmissions between smartphones and satellites, the companies require approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). AST SpaceMobile’s Chief Strategy Officer, Scott Wisniewski, mentioned that this authorization could be obtained through a permit for their spectrum leasing arrangement. Another possible avenue for approval is a rulemaking process proposed by the FCC called “Supplemental Coverage from Space,” which was put forward on March 17.

Both authorization approaches were discussed in a recent public hearing on this topic, with the FCC expressing encouragement for both methods. Ultimately, FCC approval will be crucial for AT&T and AST SpaceMobile to proceed with their plans to leverage satellite connectivity and address coverage gaps in the United States.

AST SpaceMobile has an additional request pending with the FCC seeking permission to transmit V-band frequencies from its proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to gateways for backhaul purposes. This request is part of AST SpaceMobile’s broader plans to establish a comprehensive satellite communication network.

In collaboration with AT&T and Rakuten, a Japanese telecommunications company, AST SpaceMobile successfully conducted its first voice call on April 20 using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone and its BlueWalker 3 test satellite. The tests with BlueWalker 3 are ongoing, with the objective of demonstrating the satellite’s capability to provide communication services at speeds typically associated with 5G networks.

AST SpaceMobile intends to launch its initial five commercial satellites in the first quarter of 2024 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites will be instrumental in the realization of AST SpaceMobile’s vision for a global satellite communication network, facilitating connectivity and communication services across various locations.

AST SpaceMobile’s Block 1 satellites, named after their development phase, are similar in size to the 1,500-kilogram BlueWalker 3 satellite. These Block 1 satellites are expected to be launched first. Following them, AST SpaceMobile plans to launch 20 larger Block 2 satellites later in 2024, which will be approximately 50% larger than those in Block 1.

AT&T has not provided specific details regarding the commercial deployment timeline for its partnership with AST SpaceMobile in the United States. However, AST SpaceMobile has indicated that the Block 2 satellites are necessary to provide coverage to the most commercially viable markets.

Lynk Global, a Virginia-based company that is also seeking authorization to offer direct-to-device commercial services in the US, has not disclosed its spectrum partner yet. SpaceX, on the other hand, announced last year that it would utilize spectrum from T-Mobile to enable direct connectivity between standard smartphones and its upgraded satellites in the low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

Narrowband IoT or NB-IoT is now on a great way to becoming the first technology to bridge the worlds of Telecom and Satcom. But will this limit standard 5G NTN services to be IoT-related only, until we move on to future releases? Unlikely, since recent development and analysis indicate that NB-IoT will also be capable of supporting other features – such as texting, voice communication and multicast firmware updates.

The satellite industry is moving from traditional user cases towards IoT-oriented solutions, and as thousands of new satellites are launched into space, this tendency will gain momentum.

This next generation of satellite constellations based on 5G architecture will not only create solid growth in the satellite industry, but also play a new and vital role in the implementation of future 5G cellular networks.

These networks will effortlessly encompass hard-to-cover user locations such as airplanes, ocean-going ships, and long-distance train routes, in addition to remote, sparsely populated areas of the world where the roll-out of terrestrial networks until now has been far too expensive for the given business cases.

As such, satellite technology is the most cost-effective extension of terrestrial networks, and the 3GPP organization is currently taking great strides towards a proper integration of satellite and terrestrial networks based on 5G standards.

With the 3GPP release 17 in which NB-IoT connectivity will be expanded into space, mobile user cases oriented towards coverage of remote areas have become one of the main applications that can be deployed. Built on the 3GPP standards for 5G, NB-IoT is a secure, low-power, wide-area data network technology. It provides both system and spectral efficiency and can support connected device battery life of up to ten years across many user cases.

Thoroughly integrating 5G NB IoT with the 3GPP standard is crucial as this provides a guarantee that the technology will be available in any country, worldwide. In fact, NB-IoT (and LTE-M) are the only standards that 3GPP plans to support for LPWA user cases.

The power and flexibility of future NB-IoT networks will lead to the deployment of new, innovative solutions previously unsupportable – and even unimagined. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the NB-IoT user cases enabled by satellite technology.

For years, commercial satellite communication has primarily been limited to the support of emergency services in special scenarios. Previously, satellite communications required the use of expensive satellite phones, but now, phone manufacturers are teaming up with the satellite industry to bring texting features via satellite connectivity directly to consumer smartphones.

The texting feature is currently being presented as a way to send emergency messages, for example when hiking in mountain areas, sailing offshore or in case of accidents in other remote areas.

Another simple and effective way to communicate when every second counts, is the emergency push-to-talk feature that satellite-based NB-IoT also offers. In situations where a terrestrial network is out of reach, this feature enables people to take turns in conversations via different devices – even ordinary smartphones via satellite in remote areas.

Historically, push-to-talk has often been the norm in fields such as public safety, security, construction, transportation, and manufacturing. It is a popular technology because it is easy to activate, allowing the operator to focus on the job at hand.

There is a massive requirement for digitization which promises to revolutionize a wide range of uses in rural, remote, or inaccessible areas. Whether it’s an emergency, mission-critical situation or simple sensor surveillance, NB-IoT makes it possible to establish automatic or manual push-to-talk communication channels creating new user experiences.

Software updates have become a key part of our connected day-to-day lives. It usually requires no more than a touch of a button to keep apps on our smartphones up to date. But in other cases, updating is not that simple.

Modern cars are increasingly evolving into smartphones on wheels, and they consist of a multitude of components that sometimes require software updates, which is a very time-consuming task if carried out manually at workshops using data cables.

Not only is this a costly affair for the manufacturer, it’s also time-consuming and frustrating for car owners. And this problem stretches far beyond the car industry. Just think of all the offshore wind farms in remote areas at sea. Manual updates would be most inefficient in these scenarios. A far easier alternative is wirelessly transmitted firmware updates via NB-IoT.

Lynk Global have made it clear that they will test the ability to send a 5G signal from a satellite launching in December to standard mobile devices, after getting funding for the demonstration from an undisclosed partner.

The experimental 5G payload will be onboard its second commercial satellite, which SpaceX is slated to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of its Transporter 6 rideshare mission.

Two other Lynk Global satellites are also due to fly on this mission to give the Virginia-based startup four commercial satellites in low Earth orbit.

Lynk’s initial satellites are designed to provide connectivity for its mobile network operator (MNO) partners’ customers over 2G to 4G. 

The startup said “in the future” its software-defined radios “will be able to switch to 5G when our MNO partners and other customers prefer that over 4G.”

Details of the 5G tests were not disclosed.

Lynk has plans to operate more than 50 satellites before the end of 2023, which it says would enable users to send and receive text messages every 15-30 minutes.

Charles Miller, Lynk’s CEO, expects MNOs will want to upgrade from 4G to 5G satellite connectivity in 2025, when the startup would be able to provide “continuous” voice and broadband data services from orbit.

“Another issue is how prevalent the demand for 5G will be from our MNO partners,” Miller said via email.

“If we are only putting 5G beams down in a country, that means that 4G phones will not get service. Our MNO partners will need to decide when a transition takes place from 4G to 5G. This decision is up to the MNOs.”

He added: “I suspect Lynk will be ready to provide 5G services well before MNOs want to make the transition from 4G to 5G.”

Lynk’s long-term plan is to beam down 4G connectivity in one spectrum band and 5G in another, enabling MNOs to use both 4G and 5G services.

Texas-based startup AST SpaceMobile plans to start deploying its first commercial spacecraft in late 2023. These will be larger than Lynk’s pizza-boxed shaped satellites for providing voice, video streaming, and other higher bandwidth services.

AST’s BlueWalker-3 prototype satellite, which SpaceX launched Sept. 10, is slated to unfurl its 64-square-meter antenna in the next couple of weeks to test its ability to bring 4G and 5G connectivity to standard mobile phones.

SpaceX announced plans to provide its own direct-to-cell service as early as late next year in partnership with U.S.-based MNO T-Mobile.

“Lynk is years ahead of everyone else in enabling MNOs to extend their cellular networks to 100% of their geographic territories,” Dan Dooley, Lynk’s chief commercial officer of Lynk, said in a statement.

“We will be years ahead in 5G as well.”

He said Lynk is actively testing satellite-direct-to-phone-services in 12 countries on five continents. 

The startup secured regulatory approval Sept. 16 to operate its initial cellphone-compatible constellation globally; however, it has not yet obtained landing rights in any country to provide services.

DoD could take advantage of low Earth orbit satellites to deliver 5G for mobile users.

A $600 million DoD initiative to demonstrate 5G wireless networks at military bases nationwide is primarily focused on terrestrial communications but is being closely watched by the satellite industry as non-terrestrial networks increasingly become part of the 5G ecosystem.  

These DoD experiments with 5G also will serve as an indicator of how the military intends to employ commercial technologies for fixed and mobile communications, which could shape future demand for space-based services.

 “The question is where do they go with it?” said Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the defense business division of Hughes Network Systems. 

Satellite operators Hughes and Viasat are among several telecommunications technology firms that have won Pentagon contracts under the 5G pilot project.

“After this experimentation phase, we understand that in the 2024 budget cycle we may see it being programmed in for operational use,” Lober told SpaceNews. 

The next step would be for DoD to take advantage of Low Earth Orbit satellites with lower latencies to deliver 5G for mobile users, Lober said. 

“What we’re doing now is terrestrial. But what’s coming next is that a 5G standard is going to be adopted for space. So we’re going to be talking about satellite-direct-to-phone connections, probably using LEO networks,” he said.

Hughes, an investor in OneWeb, plans to partner with the company on DoD 5G efforts. 

Most recently, satellite communication provider SatixFy Technology announced it successfully demonstrated 5G backhaul communications connected to a OneWeb satellite in low Earth orbit.

Amazon’s LEO network known as Project Kuiper has teamed with Verizon Communications to pair Verizon’s 5G terrestrial mobile network with Kuiper satellites. 

The Pentagon views the 5G race as part of the U.S. strategic competition with China, and DoD could leverage mobile 5G to fill communications needs not currently met by military satellites, said Lober. 

A major development for space-based 5G was the recent release of standards by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the international body responsible for defining technical specifications for mobile wireless networks.. The latest standards release — 3GPP Release 17 — deals with non-terrestrial networks and supports expansion of coverage using satellites.

“Commercial industry is driving that, and I think the DoD can really take advantage of it,” said Lober. “5G gives you much higher throughput, and much lower latency. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that lower latency allows you to do edge computing on the battlefield.”

The satcom industry expects more funding for 5G in the Pentagon’s 2024 budget, he said. “We hope to see funding to take what we’ve done experimenting with terrestrial and make it operational.”

Commercial mobile 5G from space would be a worthwhile option for DoD to fill future narrowband communications needs, he added. The U.S. Space Force is considering buying two more Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites that provide voice and low-rate data transfer for mobile users.

Current MUOS satellites are oversubscribed, and the Space Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives to determine whether it should buy two more MUOS, opt for a new design or use commercial services. 

One of the issues with MUOS is that there are not enough user handsets and terminals in the U.S. military to take advantage of the features of the more advanced payload. Most users have older terminals that only communicate with MUOS legacy payload that has outdated technology. 

“This has been a big problem,” said Lober. “Commercially, we look at space, ground terminal and network management, all in parallel.”

Now the industry is moving to space-based 5G and “we feel that the DoD should strongly consider that for their narrowband analysis of alternatives,” said Lober. “The beauty of that is that if you can get the same device to operate terrestrial and space, you’re really advancing things.”