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The role of non-terrestrial networks in the 5G revolution

Ashish Yadav
Mar 21, 2024

From smoke signals and carrier pigeons to high-tech devices and networks, like the telephone, internet, and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM)/2G, the communication journey has come a long way.

The subsequent introduction of 3G, 4G, and 5G wireless technologies, spaced roughly a decade apart, reflects our ongoing technological advancements, changing user needs, and evolving industry standards.

Amidst this evolution, the need for non-terrestrial networks (NTN) has become increasingly apparent. While terrestrial networks have significantly advanced, they face limitations in reaching remote or challenging terrains. NTNs, including satellite constellations and high-altitude platforms, are crucial in extending connectivity beyond terrestrial boundaries. These networks bridge gaps in coverage, ensuring that even the most isolated regions can benefit from high-speed internet access.

What is an NTN?

Non-terrestrial networks are wireless communication systems that operate above the earth’s surface. They leverage satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO), medium-earth orbit (MEO), geostationary orbit (GEO), high-altitude platforms (HAPS), and drones to provide seamless coverage to remote areas without traditional networks.

Today, devices are separated into those connected to the 3GPP terrestrial network and those connected to satellites. In other words, users who require a satellite connection need another device alongside their existing smartphone for satellite connectivity. With NTN, all mobile devices will eventually be connected to terrestrial and satellite networks as part of the 3GPP ecosystem.

NTNs within the context of 5G

In our increasingly interconnected world, the synergy between satellite communication and emerging technologies like 5G is reshaping the landscape of global connectivity. Satellite communication, once a pioneering venture with the launch of Sputnik 1, now stands at the forefront of communication evolution.

As we stand on the cusp of the 5G era, the integration of NTN has emerged as a transformative force. 5G technology demands enhanced coverage, lower latency, and increased capacity, all of which can be achieved by leveraging the capabilities of satellite constellations and other non-ground-based technologies.

This symbiotic relationship between 5G and NTNs holds the promise of transforming global connectivity, enabling seamless communication in previously inaccessible areas, and advancing the capabilities of 5G networks.

Communication satellites within Non-Terrestrial Networks are pivotal in extending 5G capabilities globally. LEO satellites are gaining prominence due to their lower latency and enhanced data transfer rates. These satellites, which are part of mega-constellations, promise to bring high-speed internet access to underserved regions, fostering digital inclusion in traditionally hard-to-reach places.

Capgemini is leading the way in the new age of Satcom technology. It offers software frameworks such as centralized unit (CU), distributed unit (DU), core, RAN intelligent controller (RIC), and service management and orchestration (SMO)that allow Satcom providers to launch their products quickly in this competitive market. Capgemini also provides design and architectural services to customize the solution for each Satcom provider. The solution is already compliant with 3GPP and has been tested with industry trusted simulators for channel and doppler variations, as well as 3GPP release 17 for compliant User Equipment (UE). Capgemini is involved in the Satcom journey from design and architecture to deployment and post-deployment support services.

We also recognize the need for antenna solutions that can make the NTN journey for HAPs solutions more transformative. Cambridge Consultants’ innovative design of high-performance Digital Phase Array Antennas optimizes power, weight, and cooling to support a range of HAPs solutions. Their dynamic beam-forming technology enables these platforms to adapt coverage from wide areas of more than 100 square-kilometers in rural regions to highly targeted beams over locations such as major highways during peak hours or to support temporary events such as music festivals.

Benefits of NTN

  • Global connectivity: Integrating satellites into 5G networks expands coverage to remote and challenging terrains, ensuring that even the most isolated communities can benefit from high-speed internet access.
  • Low latency: LEO satellites reduce latency, enhancing the responsiveness of 5G networks. This is particularly crucial for applications such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and autonomous systems.
  • Disaster response and management: Satellite communication, combined with 5G technology, enhances disaster response by providing real-time data and connectivity during emergencies, enabling swift and coordinated efforts for disaster management.

Navigating the challenges of NTNs

While satellite communication and 5G integration prospects are promising, challenges like spectrum congestion, orbital debris, and regulatory frameworks need addressing. Ongoing research and technological innovations aim to optimize the synergy between satellites and 5G, paving the way for a seamless, globally connected future.

Satellite communication, fueled by the integration with non-terrestrial networks, is poised to play a pivotal role in the 5G revolution. As we journey towards unprecedented connectivity, the collaboration between satellites and 5G technologies promises a world where communication transcends terrestrial boundaries, reaching the farthest corners of the globe and unlocking new possibilities for innovation and progress.

The saying “With great power comes great responsibility” is very relevant to the evolution of NTN. Satellite communication companies have a huge responsibility to prevent the creation of space debris while still striving to improve our world. It’s crucial for these companies to collaborate and come to a common understanding to achieve this goal. Regulatory bodies have an important role to play in balancing the need for innovation with the need for a sustainable future. Therefore, these bodies need to ensure that satellite communication companies operate responsibly and sustainably.

Reach out to our expert team to learn more about how your organization can leverage NTNs to provide unprecedented connectivity.

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Meet the author

Ashish Yadav

Head of Strategic Partnerships and Technical Product Management, Software Frameworks & Solutions, Capgemini Engineering
Ashish Yadav is a leader with more than 20 years of engineering experience, managing strategic partnerships for start-ups and Fortune 500 global technology companies. In her current role, she is responsible for global strategic partnership alliances and technical product marketing for the Software Frameworks & Solutions portfolio at Capgemini. This group is responsible for building innovative offerings in the area of 5G, networking, cloud/Edge and the automotive sector.