Qualcomm Technologies, Ericsson and French aerospace company Thales announced on July 11, 2022 their intention to work together with the goal of making 5G connections everywhere through the use of space. This objective is to be accomplished by making 5G globally available through use of combined satellite and terrestrial connectivity. The announcement comes on the heels of the March 2022 go-ahead by 3GPP Global Telecommunications Standards’ Body to support non-terrestrial networks for the first time.
“For 5G to fulfill the promise of ubiquitous connectivity, it is imperative that it can also deliver network coverage in areas where terrestrial cellular networks do not exist, whether that be over oceans or in remote areas,” said John Smee, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm. “Our planned research with Ericsson and Thales will kick off an important step in making this vital technology a reality. We are looking forward to what this collaboration can accomplish.”
How the three companies are bringing 5G worldwide
Following the approval for satellite-driven 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks (5G NTNs) by 3GPP, the three companies aim to assist with global network coverage, even in areas that currently do not have terrestrial network capabilities. Using 5G connectivity through a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite, coverage can be expanded to areas previously not able to receive service, including extreme terrain and across seas and oceans.
“This testing and validation cooperation between Ericsson, Thales and Qualcomm Technologies will be a major milestone in the history of communications,” said Erik Ekudden, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Ericsson. “The ultimate result could effectively mean that no matter where you are on Earth – in the middle of an ocean or the remotest forest – high-end, secure and cost-effective connectivity will be available through collaborative 5G satellite and terrestrial connectivity.”
These improvements in 5G connectivity could potentially help with a number of different use cases, ranging from a cell user’s roaming service, all the way to assistance with critical infrastructure areas like transportation, energy and healthcare. The three companies are additionally hoping that in the event of an emergency, satellite connectivity could be used in place of or as a backup to terrestrial networks.
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Testing and validation of 5G in space
The three companies’ plan to enter smartphone focused testing and validation of 5G NTN began with 3GPP’s announcement, and is intended to discover what components are needed to enable 5G connectivity between smartphones, satellites and terrestrial 5G network segments. The goal for the testing is to ensure that 5G NTN can be supported through use of a network-enabled smartphone, with tests being conducted in an emulated space environment in France.
Ericsson as part of the testing phase will handle the 5G virtual RAN stack that has been altered to handle radio waves through quick moving satellites. Thales’ responsibility will be to verify that the payload will be able to be distributed by the satellites themselves, while Qualcomm is providing the smartphones that will verify if 5G NTN can be accessed by 5G enabled devices.
“The deployment of 5G networks marks a step change for the telecoms industry. It is a game changer, not only in terms of business opportunities but also in the skills required to connect and protect billions of people and things,” said Philippe Keryer, executive vice president of strategy, research and technology at Thales. “Thales is deeply involved in it through the different activities of the Group. The research collaboration with Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies will demonstrate the belief of our companies that 5G non-terrestrial networks will contribute to this revolution and will take network resiliency and security to the next level.”