From Hybrid Terrestrial and Non-Terrestrial Networks to Next-gen Ground Terminals: Outlining Requirements for Mobility Satellite Connectivity
A key connectivity requirement within the maritime and aviation sectors is high-data transfer in remote areas. Having continuous access to such connectivity is important to address and resolve industry trends and challenges such as decarbonisation, autonomy, remote maintenance and passenger and crew entertainment and wellbeing. Low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellations combined with satellites in other orbits, as well as a sound satellite ground infrastructure combined with terrestrial networks can bring great potential to these mobility end-user markets.
One of promising satellite technologies that can deliver high-data rate connective anytime, anywhere is the successful implementation of intersatellite links. Such links allow for data transfer between (software-defined) satellites in multiple orbits, making it easier to transfer specific data from ship-to-shore or air-to-ground and vice versa.
Professionals within the industry are hauling satellite’s promising capabilities due to intersatellite links, and its capability to use advanced technology such as optical communications and quantum key distribution.
With new non-geosynchronous orbiting (non-GEO) satellites becoming operational, there are a lot of different federated networks and constellations that currently can’t talk to each other. But with ensuring good intersatellite links, and as such working with multiple interfaces, there is a requirement for standardised approach across satellite platforms and ground stations, so customers can access clouds and application programming interfaces (APIs) without issue. There is a need for an increased and secure data downlink within a product’s portfolio and implementing security on low-cost satellite platforms.
Combining satellite networks with terrestrial networks, and especially into 5G network, has been discussed over the last couple of years and this is currently being addressed by 3GPP and its standardisation regarding bringing satellite into terrestrial networks. A key bottleneck in the implementation of satellite into terrestrial networks, and so that it can be utilised for remote backhaul solutions, is the cost of terminals, service orchestration and coordination with the telecommunications industry.
The interest in hybrid network is high from the satellite industry. There are currently challenges regarding integration satellite into 5G – it is the first interface between satellite communication and terrestrial networks. There is an expectation that once this is done successfully, the integration of satellite into 6G will be seamless. With the maritime industry moving to applications such as autonomous vessels, there will be a lot more demand for a hybrid network.
According to one of our contacts, they expect that system integrators such as Marlink and Speedcast, will play a key role in providing hybrid network capabilities to the maritime and aviation sectors, while they also expect systems for in-flight connectivity will play a stronger role in Europe. Alongside the requirements within maritime and aviation, there are similar requirements coming up in railroads and automotive.
Another bottleneck that requires addressing is the cost of terminals and how this needs to be brought down, and how new service orchestration between terrestrial and non-terrestrial network require integrating with the help of organisations such as Orange and Eutelsat among many others.
Once successful intersatellite links and an integration into terrestrial networks are (being) established, a tool is required to provide access to multiple networks simultaneously through next-gen terminals and ground stations. It opens the capability for an end-user to be able to have greater choice, resilience and reliability as they can use one terminal and connect to different networks at the same time.
For maritime and aviation end-users, having next-gen antennas that can connect to multiple networks is of utmost importance, as long as they come at an affordable price. A big potential use-case is the use of autonomous or remotely controlled vessels. There are many compelling reasons for the maritime industry to go that direction but when there needs to be strong resiliency in terms of communication solutions and data throughput. A vessel would have to have total situational awareness at all times.
As many antennas, especially for vessels, are incredibly large and sometimes come in multiple numbers of large cruise ships, one of our contacts in the maritime industry described them looking like a ‘space unit’. One of our contacts in the aviation industry said that many antennas are still too heavy for aircraft, even if they are flat panels. In the maritime and aviation industries, vessels and aircraft have to have smaller, lightweight, flexible and network-agnostic antennas that can provide such connectivity at all times.
The upcoming Mobility Connectivity Conference (November 15-17, Bremen, Germany) will address key developments regarding satellite connectivity, intersatellite links, ground infrastructure and terminal optimisation. To join us in-person, make sure to register for your seat register here.