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Device-to-device 5G and broadband satcomms services poised for growth in 2024 – analysis

Staff Reporter
December 20, 2023

Next year will see many more device-to-device satcoms services says Peter Kibutu,Advanced Technology Lead at 5G satellite consultancy TTP

There will be further partnerships between terrestrial network providers, which own most of the desirable spectrum and have access to a large subscriber base, and non-terrestrial providers. These joint ventures will tackle rural and remote black spots that terrestrial networks struggle to connect alone and will open new use cases like connected cars and industrial IoT.

To achieve this collaboration, satellite providers will move away from proprietary technology to fully support 3GPP standards, which is a crucial piece of the puzzle as we evolve towards the universal communications expected from 6G.”

This year we saw announcements from several satellite operators offering direct-to-device messaging connectivity, a welcome evolution from the recent focus on new fixed broadband satellite services from companies such as Starlink.

Next more will see fixed broadband satellite services from companies such as Starlink.

At significant announcement was from Apple and Globalstar who joined forces to offer direct-to-device connectivity on the iPhone 14 But even this had shortcomings. Another notable development was the failure of Qualcomm and Iridium’s partnership due to a lack of interest by handset vendors who which prefer solutions based on 3GPP standards.

Current satellite infrastructure is not cost-effective when supporting the high-bandwidth connectivity needed for the data services on our 4G or 5G phones. So providers like Globalstar are focusing on messaging and emergency voice services and basing these services on non-standard protocols, which don’t integrate with the current terrestrial cellular ecosystem.

This will begin to change next year as satellite operators shift their focus from messaging to a standards-based 5G NTN with ‘enhanced mobile broadband services’ including direct-to-handset.

I expect announcements from satellite operators on new LEO constellations based on 5G NR NTN (5G NR (New Radio Non-Terrestrial Networks) .

5G NR is the global standard for a unified, more capable 5G wireless air interface. It has been developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and is designed to support a wide variety of services, devices, and deployments.

It is characterised by higher speeds, reduced latency, and massive connectivity for devices. This will provide global coverage for consumer direct-to-handset and home broadband services.

Greater collaboration between terrestrial and non-terrestrial operators

These LEO constellations will enable better connectivity between satellites and handsets, making direct-to-device satellite connectivity a reality.

I also expect major handset companies to announce support for 5G NR NTN services in their flagship devices. Apple has traditionally been first off the blocks in adopting new use cases, but the jury is out on whether they will take the lead.” 

Incumbent broadband satellite operators will adopt 5G NTN standards to fight off new entrants. 5G NTN (5G Non-Terrestrial Networks) refers to a component of 5G networks that utilises satellites and other non-terrestrial means to provide communication services. This is a significant extension from traditional terrestrial-based networks, which rely on ground-based infrastructure like cell towers. Key aspects of 5G NTN are extended coverage, integration with terrestrial networks, support for applications, and global connectivity

The next generation of 5G NTNs will support the higher frequencies currently being used by Starlink and Amazon Kuiper for low-cost broadband services. Operators with high-throughput GEO constellations are facing stiff competition to react quickly and adopt the 5G NTN standard to replace their current DVB-S2X-based solutions (Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite – Second Generation Extension).

DVB-S2 was introduced around 2005, as a significant improvement over its predecessor, DVB-S. It offered enhanced efficiency, reliability, and flexibility for satellite broadcasting, making it a popular choice for broadcasting HD television, satellite internet services, and other data transmission applications.

The next generation of 5G NTNs will enable operators to integrate seamlessly with terrestrial networks, open new use cases and tap into the larger low-cost standards-based device ecosystem. It will also give them an edge over the vertically-integrated new entrants, which depend on closed, bespoke solutions.”

Peter Kibutu,Advanced Technology Lead at 5G satellite consultancy TTP




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