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5G NTN: Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales are testing 5G in space

According to preliminary studies within 3GPP Release 15 and 16, version 17 for the first time envisions the use of non-terrestrial networks (NTN) for the delivery of 5G mobile communications via satellites. Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Thales today announced a partnership to test the feasibility of associated 5G networks and devices.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project is a worldwide collaboration between standardization bodies for standardization in mobile communications. Release 17 is currently in its final stages and scheduled for later this year the protocol coding freezes receive. Meanwhile, releases 18 and 19 are being worked on, of which Innovations and current status can be viewed in the work program of the 3GPP.

5G via satellites in low Earth orbit

Release 17 offers for the first time the possibility to implement 5G networks via satellites also in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). After Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales have already conducted their own studies and simulations, the network supplier, the mobile phone specialist, and the French defense company wants to start joint tests for the use of 5G NTN on smartphones. Future smartphones could thus offer worldwide 5G reception even in places where a satellite phone is currently needed, such as extremely remote regions or on the high seas.

A space-based grid can also serve as a backup in the event of major network failures or calamities. For governments, 5G NTN is intended to provide a secure communication channel. The joint tests aim to validate several technological components required for the operation of 5G NTN, including the associated 5G smartphones, the satellite payload, and the 5G equipment on the ground. In addition, it needs to be determined whether it is even possible to support 5G NTN with the form factor of current smartphones. Thus, the corresponding devices will in effect become satellite telephones, which have been considerably larger until now.

First tests on the ground in France

The first tests will take place exclusively on the ground, in particular in France, where the reality of space will be simulated. The distribution of the frequencies, the latency, and the use of associated end devices in different locations in the world are simulated. Ericsson wants to test a 5G virtual RAN (Radio Access Network) stack adapted for the propagation of 5G frequencies in the vacuum of space and in the Earth’s atmosphere via fast-moving satellites.

Thales wants to determine whether corresponding satellites for 5G NTN can be carried as a payload. Qualcomm, in turn, provides the smartphone test devices to determine whether future 5G smartphones can also handle 5G NTN. Commenting on today’s announcement, Erik Ekudden, SVP, and CTO at Ericsson said it is too early to say when the first satellite for 5G NTN will be launched, but ground testing is a requirement.