Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales to trial 5G from space

    A consortium of three telecoms, tech and defence groups are planning to take 5G into space by developing a satellite network that could enable smartphone users to wirelessly access superfast speeds and low latency wherever they are in the world.

    Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson, French aerospace company Thales and US chip company Qualcomm are testing how a 5G network could work using low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, to help individuals access wireless internet in some of the most extreme topographies and remote locations.

    The test-bed for the 5G network, which could also be used as a back-up for terrestrial networks during outages or disasters, will be located at a Thales site that emulates the space environment in France.

    The pilot study represents the first time a network equipment vendor such as Ericsson has sought to use LEO satellites to extend 5G connectivity to smartphones. It could pave the way for global wireless coverage from space at a time when governments have become increasingly concerned about ensuring the autonomy and resilience of their telecoms infrastructure.

    However, it must overcome significant hurdles to connect terrestrial infrastructure to satellites, ensure that the network it creates is not prohibitively expensive and eventually secure private or public funding to launch the satellites.

    The burgeoning LEO ecosystem is dominated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX initiative, but a growing number of companies are seeking to enter the “low-earth” economy — situated between 150km and 2,000km above ground — where there are opportunities to increase scale and reduce cost.

    “There is no G from space at the moment, this would be the first,” said Hakan Djuphammar, head of special projects at Ericsson. “LEO [satellites] have reduced the distance the radio signal has to travel” and also made it “much less costly to send up a satellite”, he added. “The development [of LEO] has been exponential in the past few years, basically because of SpaceX.”

    Testing a potential new LEO 5G network, which will seek to establish that the technology can actually work on smartphones, was made possible by the release of a new “non-terrestrial network” standard by one of the most influential telecoms standard-setting bodies, 3GPP, earlier this year.

    Some smaller companies have started testing their own proprietary space-based networks for phones, that do not rely on the industry standard and would therefore probably have limited scope. AST SpaceMobile, for example, is building a space-based cellular network and has said it plans to launch its first satellite in mid-August.

    Ericsson, Thales and Qualcomm have not set a date for when their first LEO satellites will be launched, but are hoping to deploy within the “next few years”, and say they will seek to obtain dedicated satellite spectrum for their network.

    Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales to trial 5G from space Republished from Source via

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