Thales has captured the bull of the horns to bring out a constellation of 5G satellites, which, in addition to terrestrial networks, should provide global and uninterrupted coverage of communication services. A constellation of 600 to 800 satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), can be deployed “In four to five years”, Thales executive vice president responsible for strategy, research and technology, Philip Keirer. This project values between 2 and 8 billion euros. For Thales, the real driver was the decision of 3GPP, a body of Cooperation between telecommunication standardization bodies, which finally allowed the introduction of satellite networks within the 5G (5G NTN) standards. A small revolution in the field of communications took part in the Thales Alenia Space, which worked within the framework of the think tanks on the proposal to unify the NTN 5G networks.
In the process, the French technology group teamed up with Swedish equipment manufacturer Ericsson and Qualcomm, the world leader in wireless technology innovation. Thales logically contributes its expertise to the development of space payloads, which must be compatible with 5G. Ericsson will provide the 5G core network. Finally, Qualcomm is clearly the world leader in mobile terminal chips. With the goal of a 5G smartphone being able to use 5G connectivity anywhere on Earth and providing complete global coverage of broadband data services, including areas usually covered only by legacy satellite TV of phone systems with limited connectivity capabilities.
We are still in the research and development stage. Satellite payload, explains Philip Kerrier, who has worked for a long time in communications (Alcatel). A stage that should extend over a period of 12 to 24 months which will make it possible to determine the load. “Once this payload is stable and ready to launch, we intend to move to the stage of sending 20 to 30 satellites into space to demonstrate continuity of service at one location for a few minutes.”, he explains. In parallel, the three groups are studying the use of spectrum intended for satellite operators and compatible with 5G frequencies (MSS frequencies, Mobile satellite service systemse).
“If trials are decisive, the idea is to take the next step,” sOr the popular 5G constellation deployment, Philippe Kerrer explains. Provided you find a worker who takes. “We are developing the technology with the aim that the investor can buy this 5G suite from us, which can be operated”, He says. The three groups target satellite operators such as EchoStar, Inmarsat and Omnispace, who have MSS frequencies. This kind of operator will “Part of the equation is being launched on the one hand, and then financing and operating the constellation”, says Philip Kerrier. But there is no question for Thales “Become a constellation operator. It’s very clear”He says.
What a feasibility study
“With a few dozen megabytes available, our solution will be able to receive video, connect to the Internet, send messages, communicate via WhatsApp…”, Philip Kerrier thought. Thales copied the constellation’s “working state” onto that of the Iridium constellation, which is “very profitable”, notice. Government communications can be a major use case, given the security features expected from 5G non-terrestrial networks, particularly to enhance the security and resiliency of government networks (national security and public safety). “We can clearly see that the police and the gendarmerie do not accept that there should be outages in certain places where they want to be able to communicate”notice.
“5G architecture also allows for specific security layers that allow people like you and me to coexist, who will use this terrestrial and satellite standard, but have a specific security layer for police or gendarmerie forces,” explains Philippe Kerrer.
There are certain industries that need flexibility, redundancy, and security. This is the case for the transportation sector, particularly autonomous or connected vehicles. These vehicles use the terrestrial network but can use satellites to get global coverage if needed. “It’s really a plus to have that extra cover”, Chief Strategy Thales estimated. This is also the case in the field of energy or health. A sector where more and more connected organisms are vital to monitoring people’s health. “Maintaining that contact at all times is important”, notice. Finally, the satellite network can act as a backup solution for terrestrial networks in the event of major failures or disasters. “We saw this in the context of the Fukushima earthquake that destroyed terrestrial networks. Having redundancy of terrestrial networks in the event of a major meltdown and catastrophe could be an added advantage.”Philip Keerer remembers.