A recent report by analyst Omdia1 noted that “a surprise to many next year may be the rapid emergence of satellite to augment telcos’ terrestrial network coverage”, referencing Verizon and Deutsche Telekom’s recent agreements with Amazon Kuiper and Eutelsat respectively. It’s been hard to miss recently the proliferation of such partnerships and investments, like Vodafone’s stake in AST SpaceMobile, and BT’s agreement with OneWeb.
But why are these partnerships happening? How do non-terrestrial networks complement those on the ground and how do the unique features of 5G enable this more than ever before? Here are four use cases that we see as core to the promise of ‘hybrid networks’, and how we are working to develop them.
Hybrid networks can provide seamless continuity of connection
More than any previous generation, 5G supports the concept of continuous connectivity; a world where you can always contact the emergency services, or check the football results. Satellite helps to make that a reality, providing coverage on mobile not-spots where it’s not cost-efficient to build a terrestrial infrastructure.
CGI, in partnership with a range of connectivity and rail stakeholders, are currently running the SODOR project, which will provide seamless connectivity for rail users by switching between terrestrial and satellite. This technology is built for 5G, recognising that 5G is a critical enabler for the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS).
Satellite can provide backhaul for remote 5G private networks
CGI have a demo in our Future Networks lab of a scenario where a critical infrastructure site in a remote location which has a set of CCTV cameras linked by a private 5G network. 5G technologies enable automated processing of movement or other recognition data at the edge, and transmit an alert via satellite back to a central operating facility.
Hybrid networks can enable rapid deployment of communications infrastructure
CGI are part of the INSTANT5G team with Avanti Communications, University of Surrey and Lasting, developing a 5G over SatCom service with zero-touch service management. This unlocks scenarios like being able to quickly add capacity to a football stadium on match day, or supply an initial communications infrastructure for a disaster/emergency services response situation.
5G enables critical communications to get through as a priority
CGI’s Management and Orchestration solution (MANO) enables us to use quality of service requirements to prioritise and route traffic across different parts of a hybrid network. This means that the network can quickly react to changing demands, or even the loss of an element of the network, and ensure that the critical traffic gets to those who need it. It also means we can tailor the network for efficiently; for example, use LEO satellites where there is a low-latency requirement and GEO where high throughput is the focus.
In the last few years, CGI have invested in both our own Future Networks lab in Leatherhead, and in building the European Space Agency’s 5G/6G Hub in Harwell, Oxfordshire. Both facilities have the dual purpose of being engineering facilities to enable technology innovation, but also to develop use cases and demonstrate the possibilities of 5G (and beyond) to industry. Each site houses a number of demos of such use cases which enable us to look at both the current art of the possible and what possibilities future connectivity will give us.
1 2022 Trends to Watch: Global 5G