Tag Archive for: 5G

It’s fair to say that most of the wireless industry guessed wrong on Charlie Ergen’s plans for 5G. That group includes your humble narrator. We had plenty of hints as to what was the truth — that Ergen was building the fourth largest wireless carrier in the United States with an independent 5G offering and the full support of carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). The Dish on Ergen’s 5G Masterstroke

Back in May 2018, Ergen laid out his exact plans in front of hundreds of people gathered in a Charlotte Convention Center ballroom. “We’re one of the few companies that can think long-term, and so, we’re confident about 5G,” said Ergen, sitting five feet away from former FCC Commissioner Rob McDowell, and about 20 feet away from current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We’re going to build a 5G network to support all of the future IoT (Internet-of Things) applications we’ve been talking about and it’s going to cost $10 billion or more.”

Ergen continued: “One of the things I think we’re pretty good at is partnering with people who know more than we do. Many people in this room already know that we have signed some national lease agreements with tower companies. We’re now permitting and designing that RF network.” The Dish on Ergen’s 5G Masterstroke

With the blessing of the DoJ and FCC, Dish committed to launch a 5G broadband network capable of serving 70 percent of the U.S. population by June 2023. To do so, it will adjust its spectrum licenses, and give Sprint approximately $5 billion to acquire its prepaid businesses and customers, including Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, 14 Megahertz (MHz) of Sprint’s nationwide 800 MHz spectrum. T-Mobile, looking to merge with Sprint, will give Dish access to its network for seven years, including the ability to serve DISH customers between T-Mobile’s nationwide network and Dish’s new independent 5G broadband network.

To get the DoJ’s blessing, Dish had to agree to some conditions on how it sells its 600 MHz spectrum, for which it holds 486 different licenses. According to the agreement, Dish can’t sell its 600 MHz spectrum for six years without approval from the FCC or DoJ. “Some of that [600 MHz] spectrum is fallow today, and we’ll likely lease some of that to the new T-Mobile network. T-Mobile took a very aggressive stance on that, so the DoJ is requiring both companies to use good faith efforts to lease capacity based on market needs. The elimination of the uncertainty at the FCC was also a big deal, in that we can enter the marketplace in the short period of time and start to gain return our investment.”

Despite the complex nature of the three-way trade, The Wall Street Journal reported that the three partners took three weeks to assemble the deal. For Ergen, however, the announcement was the culmination of more than 20 years of work and $21 billion in spectrum investments intended to transform Dish into a connectivity company. If all goes as planned, Dish — a legacy satellite company — will be credited with launching the United States’ first standalone 5G broadband network.

“We’re entering this market with just over nine million subscribers, so we’re not building the retail side of this business from scratch. We’re also acquiring a very competitive seven-year Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) deal with T-Mobile. We get the Sprint spectrum and the provision on the new T-Mobile network, which obviously is going to become an even better network as they build out,” says Ergen. “More importantly, we get to build our own network out, which allows us to build on a market-by-market basis, which is materially different than we envisioned where we believed we had to build the whole network across the entire country at one time.” The Dish on Ergen’s 5G Masterstroke

In working with the FCC to acquire the proper licenses, Ergen explains that while Dish and the regulatory agency initially hit some bumps regarding where the operator would build, and the flexible use licenses of Narrowband (NB) IoT network to meet its build out requirements, the two parties are now more in alignment and bonded by a mission to see a real 5G mobile broadband network built and launched in the United States.

“I know where the FCC wants to go, where I want to go, and where the [Trump] administration and Congress wants to go with 5G,” says Ergen. As a result, our NB-IoT resources will be redeployed in the short-term for the 5G network. The MVNO deal with T-Mobile allows us to use their nationwide NB-IoT that’s already built out. So, there is no reason to duplicate that network, particularly with some non-standard frequencies. We still plan to spend about $10 billion to build our network and we’re still going to need help. But our initial costs will actually be less than we had envisioned short-term. As a result, our OpEx should be less than we had ultimately envisioned.”

By “needed help,” Ergen explains that he will be looking for partners to provide backhaul, cell towers, mobile edge computing, hardware, software, distribution, and marketing. He’ll also need more money — and we’ll get to that in a moment.


One of the largest telcos in the United Kingdom, O2, has partnered with Spanish satellite operator Hispasat, the Universities of Oxford and Glasgow, the European Space Agency (ESA), and a consortium of startup companies for a major project to test satellite and 5G technologies to support connected and autonomous vehicles. The four-year trail program will be called “Project Darwin.” European Satellite, Telecom Operators

Project Darwin will be housed at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, U.K. The project will begin work next month, with plans to explore key connected vehicle and vehicle-SIM platforms plus AI neural network integration. Hispasat will supply satellite connectivity for the trials. European Satellite, Telecom Operators

“Project Darwin is an important piece of the connected and autonomous vehicle puzzle,” O2 COO Derek McManus said in a statement. “The research taking place at Harwell during the next four years will be vital in the creation of new transport ecosystems for the UK public and the companies that will offer these services,” adding that O2 will be activating its 5G network at the Millbrook Testing Ground for self-driving cars in Bedfordshire.

Project Darwin is also receiving support from the U.K. Government to launch a partner study to help discover the different elements needed for the larger program. “Autonomous vehicles need robust, high-speed mobile data connections to operate effectively,” said U.K. Space Agency Director of Growth Catherine Mealing-Jones. “Building the technology to link them to telecoms satellites will allow you to take your car wherever you want to go, and not just to areas with a strong mobile signal.” European Satellite, Telecom Operators

Communication network around Earth. Photo: NASA, Via Satellite

Communication network around Earth. Photo: NASA, Via Satellite Satellite Internet of Things IoT for 5G

Satellite Internet of Things. For some time now the European Space Agency (ESA) project “Satellite for 5G,” together with 3GPP, has been quietly evaluating how Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) (including satellite segments) might form an integral part of 5G connectivity infrastructure. Importantly, this 3GPP work item does not solely focus on use cases for Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), but also seeks to address Massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) requirements for hybrid connectivity.

Technical studies are still at the early stage, has thus far focused on describing use cases and understanding what technical problems must be solved, rather than proposing the solution. But the slow march towards a hybrid 5G Internet of Things (IoT) networks has seemingly begun.

This takes place alongside a growing crowd of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite operators financing and launching new space constellations, with some specifically oriented towards IoT. So, it is a timely moment to consider how these same networks might evolve and scale-up to meet the future aspirations of 5G mMTC.

3GPP standardization: 5G NR (New Radio) Waveforms for an LEO IoT Service Link?

Any initiative to drive economies-of-scale for key technology components in satellite IoT terminals must be embraced by smallsat operators since low-cost terminals are a missing catalyst required to accelerate service adoption. Ask any participating company what they’d like to see happen inside their ecosystem today and one of the top responses is access to a low-cost satellite communications module for IoT.

The industry has an acute need for such connectivity modules in the sub-6GHz spectrum. Today’s satellite operators are still tied into using a disparate mix of proprietary and standards-based technologies, as a one-size-fits-all waveform for satellite IoT has alluded the industry thus far. Perhaps 3GPP 5G NR standardization activities for Non-Terrestrial Networks will finally morph into a concerted effort to drive satcom terminal pricing down to commoditized levels that are more on a par with their cellular counterparts.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The flipside of having universal IoT standards would be a lack of differentiation. Opening-up the emerging 5G satellite IoT opportunity to incumbent suppliers of terrestrial connectivity hardware may sound all-well-and-good, but if the “Satellite for 5G” project successfully completes its quest to integrate Non-Terrestrial Networks into 3GPP 5G NR, that could also pave the way for terrestrial network equipment vendors to start commandeering satellite ground stations. Perhaps, even leading consortia of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and terrestrial network vendors to build or acquire their own LEO IoT constellations, in response to emerging threats from the likes of Amazon’s Kuiper and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Ground Station initiatives.

That could at least offer an attractive exit strategy for some of today’s LEO smallsat investors and so to further assess the possibility, it is helpful to outline the shape and scale of future service demands placed upon a 5G mMTC constellation. Satellite Internet of Things IoT for 5G

NTN Service Requirements for 5G mMTC

3GPP current state-of-play identifies three key roles for a 5G satellite network: rolling-out 5G services in under-served areas, providing service continuity for 5G mobile IoT use cases, and administering efficient multicast broadcast services.

It can be taken as a given that LEO constellations in polar orbits will deliver low-cost global coverage, but a more pertinent question is: when will they have the appropriate scale to deliver a truly meaningful service component for 5G mMTC?

5G mMTC Capacity Requirements

At first sight, the scale of ambition for mMTC can seem bewildering, with 3GPP citing service density targets higher than one million sensors per square kilometer (km). This envisages a world where everything is connected — from smart meters and other smart city infrastructure to vehicles, people, and everyday objects.

But 3GPP’s frighteningly large number could pale into insignificance if 5G sensors transfer only a few 10s of bytes per device per hour across a satellite segment. In that case, even a dense population approaching one million nodes might consume average aggregate data rates lower than 100 kilobits per second (kbps). This suggests relatively simple satellite payloads could be perfectly adequate to the task, assuming they can navigate the challenge to provide multiple access at huge scale.

Even with billions of sensors to serve on the ground, satellite connectivity infill is unlikely to command a strong position in the food chain. Particularly if several competing LEO constellations all jostle to address the same opportunity using a common set of waveforms. Significant churn would then precipitate a need to chase ever higher efficiencies and the race-to-the-bottom in pricing. In such circumstances, the cellular industry has a long history of precipitating large-scale mergers to drive through economies of scale and the largest players could begin to acquire LEO constellations of their own as previously alluded.

Anticipating this fiercely competitive environment, how might LEO operators attempt to differentiate their space technology platforms to prepare for a massive invasion of open standard 5G sensors? Satellite Internet of Things IoT for 5G

Focused service delivery through intelligent spot beams

At first sight, low aggregate data rates for 5G IoT would seem to augur well for the LEO smallsat community, but patches of very high subscriber density could spoil their party.

Most of today’s satellite IoT services are necessarily served using large spot beams 100 to 500 km and so we might anticipate some degree of capacity crunch rolling-out satellite IoT services around the major sensor population hubs in the U.S., Western European, and Asia. LEO satellites pass from horizon-to-horizon in less than 8 minutes, during which time a staggering number of sensors could be observed. This drives up the peak requirements for data aggregation, a challenge that is further compounded if the 5G satellite IoT service must provide some degree of guaranteed latency.

Of course, LEO operators could scale-up peak service capacity by launching ever bigger constellations or deploying bigger satellites with wider payloads. Or they might evolve increasingly intelligent ways to dynamically focus transponder bandwidth into a highly concentrated service region during a fly-by. That capability could be delivered incrementally as operators replenish a fleet or in-situ, by leveraging new software-defined space platforms such as the recently announced SmartSat from Lockheed Martin. At any rate, the most effective satellite IoT systems will be dimensioned to serve cost-effective “hot-spots” around major population hubs. Note that Geostationary Orbit (GEO) holds some clear advantages in this regard and this could hold some significance in certain network deployments.

Telefonica CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López. Photo: Telefonica

Telefonica CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López speaking at Mobile World Congress.

The rise and rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was at the heart of many keynote presentations on day one of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. José María Álvarez-Pallete López, chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Telefonica — one of the world’s biggest Telco’s — spoke of how networks will get smarter as they become AI-driven. He gave the interesting statistic that mobile data traffic is growing at more than 50 percent every year, and said no other sector comes close to this level of growth.

Interestingly, he was one of the speakers that urged governments not to look at 5G as a cash cow. “Why do we need to acquire the same spectrum over and over again? We need a refresh, and a bold regulatory approach,” he said. “The aim of regulators should be to reduce regulation. Governments are using the spectrum as cash generators. Spectrum needs to be awarded for a longer period of time.”

López spoke of the new global data sphere, and how we are flooded with data. However, he spoke of how this data revolution could help revolutionize sectors such as transportation and health, and how data now powers “information factories.” “People give it (data) away in exchange for free services. Data should be treated as a new factor of production. Data is like dignity. It has its own value. We need a data bill of rights. This will take a forward-looking approach. In Telefonica, we want to put customers in control of their data. We are working on a data portability model for our customers,” he said.

He also spoke of Telco’s being responsible business spreading the benefits of intelligent connectivity. “We need to have more sustainable business models. We need to do business in a financially, in a socially responsible and environmental way. The opportunity is amazing,” he said.

Another company that spoke was SingTel, an Asian telco, that has spread far beyond the boundaries of Singapore. SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong stated that mobile connectivity transforms the life of billions. The statistics she gave were quite mind-boggling. More than two-thirds of people are now connected to mobile. There are 8.8 billion mobile connections. There are 3.3 billion mobile internet users, there will be 1.3 billion 5G subscribers in 2025. 5G goes beyond just connecting people — it makes the Internet of Things (IoT) applications a reality. There will more than 25 billion global IOT connections by 2025, and data-driven value creation will reach $4.6 trillion.

However, while Chua talked about the potential opportunity for Telco’s, she spoke with a degree of caution similar to Lopez. “Mobile revenue growth is stagnating even if data growth is growing rapidly with 400 percent data growth by 2025. There is subdued mobile revenue growth on mobile operators who are investing billions on new networks. There is a dichotomy taking place here,” she said.

GSMA Director General Mats Granryd spoke of the benefits of 5G and said that the industry needed to move beyond just connectivity to “intelligent connectivity.” Although he spoke about its applications in several areas, he highlighted how AI and intelligent connectivity can help in healthcare He said, “Tuberculosis kills more than any other disease in the world — 2000 people will die today from it. With Big Data, we can predict where the next outbreak will happen, and put up treatment centers. The possibilities for intelligent connectivity are endless. Doctors can also perform real-time remote surgery.”

Like others, he urged governments around the world not to engage in a short-term land grab. “If the mobile ecosystem would be a country, we would take the place of Germany as the fourth largest in the world,” he said. “We are at the heart of the global industry. We need a framework for the digital age. Our message to governments is: don’t get short-term greedy and kill the golden goose.”

European Commission

The European Commission (EC) Digital Economy and Society Commissioner Mariya Gabriel spoke of her ambitions to make Europe a global leader in terms of 5G and AI. She said that the EC has supported investments in research. “We have set-up a large scale European 5G piloting structure. European operators will launch 5G services commercially this year. Europe has to keep pace with other regions,” she said.

Gabriel said she was “well aware” of the unrest with the key actors in telecoms players around cybersecurity. She also said it was the EC’s intention to give a major boost to AI-related research and innovation. “We want to reach $22.6 billion (20 billion euros) in AI-related investment,” she said.


Not surprisingly, the satellite wasn’t mentioned at all during the first morning. However, reading between the lines, Telco’s are using statistics to show their need for spectrum. All we’re talking about the inflection point of 5G, AI, the blockchain, and Big Data leading to the biggest revolution of modern times. However, with wireless players hinting at how they need to make more profits from their huge investments in 5G, the stage is set for an interesting few years ahead. There is no doubt that the fusion of AI and 5G in this new data world will lead to new digital economies where more digital skills will be needed. The new industrial revolution is happening. The question is — what role will the satellite industry play in this revolution? That is to be determined.