The News: Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Thales are planning to take 5G out of this world and across a network of Earth-orbiting satellites. After having each conduct research, including multiple studies and simulation, the parties plan to enter smartphone use case-focused testing and validation of 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTN). Read the Qualcomm Press Release here.
Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Thales: Power Trio Taking 5G on a Space Trip
Analyst Take: Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Thales are joining forces to take 5G to the next level and the sky is not the limit. In this collaboration, they are advancing the goal of enabling 5G smartphones to use 5G connectivity anywhere on the planet including worldwide coverage for wideband data services that only bandwidth-constrained satellite phone systems can reach today.
The trio envisions using low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to deliver 5G connectivity to remote areas and outer reach geographies encompassing oceans, seas, and any location where terrestrial coverage is wanted. I expect that global 5G NTN coverage can broaden 5G smartphone subscriber roaming as well as further augment 5G use cases in key industry verticals such as energy, transportation, public safety, and the health sector. Moreover, the space-based network can prove well-suited to perform back-up support to terrestrial networks in the case of massive network disasters or outages.
I anticipate that the official completion of the 3GPP 5G NR Release 17 in April 2022 can also play a critical role in advancing satellite support for enhanced machine-type communications (eMTC) and Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) devices, that can broaden the coverage for key use cases such as global asset tracking (i.e., cargo containers, sea-bound energy facilities). I see satellite communications also playing an integral role in the emerging 3GPP Release 18 focused on supporting 5G Advanced capabilities.
From my view, the success of the trio’s 5G NTN initiative will depend heavily on the testing that is planned which uses an emulated space environment in France. Ericsson looks to confirm a 5G virtual RAN (vRAN) stack, adapted to handle radio signals propagating across swift-moving LEO satellites, discerning how 5G radio waves travel through the vacuum of space and the Earth’s atmosphere.
Thales seeks to confirm a 5G radio satellite payload suitable for deployment on LEO satellites with Qualcomm intending to provide test phones that verify that 5G NTN can be supported in a smartphone form factor rendering 5G smartphones as future satellite phones.
Overall, I believe the trio’s objective of advancing 3GPP NTN standardization and testing will play a crucial role in demonstrating the suitability of LEO-based applications for NTN innovation in making 5G an Earth-wide communications system rendering 5G smartphones the next incarnation of satellite phones. From my view, Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Thales have the channel resources and portfolios to take 5G out of this world.
Disclosure: Futurum Research is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.
Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of Futurum Research as a whole.
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Ron is an experienced research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets. He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including software and services, infrastructure, 5G/IoT, AI/analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues. Read Full Bio.