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Non-terrestrial networks are a big 5G opportunity

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5G’s future is hybrid terrestrial/non-terrestrial networks. That’s the title of a recent whitepaper published by Cambridge Consultants and Mobile World Live. The whitepaper explains that 5G is about a lot more than 10-Gbps data speeds and massive leaps in connectivity.

For the first time, non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) such as low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites will be fully integrated into terrestrial networks to create hybrid terrestrial/non-terrestrial 5G mobile infrastructures to serve enterprises and consumers. A NTN could connect directly to devices or provide backhaul for a local terrestrial network.

Interest in LEO constellations has exploded in recent years, fueled by ubiquitous, high-throughput, low-latency connectivity, coupled with innovative commercial technology that has driven down satellite launch costs and the cost per bit delivered. These new capabilities, combined with the ability to integrate NTNs seamlessly into terrestrial networks, change the space business equation entirely. Some LEO constellations create “virtual fiber” networks that can reach any point on the globe.


From the whitepaper:

“Integrating non-terrestrial infrastructure will result in a mobile network infrastructure unlike anything we have seen in earlier generations. This hybrid 5G network will offer growth opportunities for both carriers and the supply chain, whilst providing a range of valuable new services for consumers and enterprise alike and finally enabling truly ubiquitous mobile broadband services.”


This is what enhances the value of 5G as a new paradigm for mobile services – NTN’s seamless integration into carrier networks. But 5G integration with NTNs isn’t there yet. The whitepaper explains that the 5G services launched to date are simply the first step towards this new space vision. There are challenges to address before NTNs reach their transformational potential.

We took these challenges into account when designing Telesat Lightspeed, our  enterprise-class LEO satellite network. Telesat Lightspeed is a highly advanced LEO broadband infrastructure that leverages state-of-the-art technologies and a sophisticated satellite architecture to revolutionize Internet and 5G connectivity throughout the world.  

For example, the all-important integration with terrestrial networks is listed as a challenge in the whitepaper. Historically integration was difficult with space-based connectivity. Telesat Lightspeed solves this challenge by meeting MEF (previously Metro Ethernet Forum) standards for carrier Ethernet connectivity. Simply put, this means that it’s as easy for enterprise customers to use Telesat Lightspeed transport as it would be using any terrestrial carrier. And they can land traffic in-country or in-region, enabling sovereign control of their data.

Another challenge cited in the whitepaper is interference. Unlike traditional satellites, Telesat Lightspeed is extremely hard to hack or jam. Telesat has adopted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework and expects to meet the U.S. government standards for security.  

Telesat Lightspeed has interference mitigation features baked into its design, including jam resistance and advanced traffic security features.

Finally, link budget and signal strength are challenges the whitepaper says NTNs need to tackle. But the paper is referring to antenna on smart phones and IoT devices connecting directly to a LEO network. That is not the Telesat Lightspeed business model.

Telesat Lightspeed will provide backhaul to connected communities that don’t have access to an Internet backbone via fiber. Handsets in that community would connect with 4G/5G towers, not the LEO satellite. The traffic from that tower will be uplinked from enterprise terminals to our satellites, then down to a landing station where it connects to a Point of Presence. And because of our network’s optical inter-satellite link (OISL) capability, it can be a single downlink anywhere on Earth – no multiple hops.

5G deployments are increasing, and what happens in space will determine how fast these future mobile networks arrive in suburban, rural and remote communities. Telesat has designed a transformational LEO network that takes full advantage of NTN opportunities, supplying multiple Gbps of capacity to a single location. We’re building a global and secure Layer 2 network designed to meet the most demanding NTN and hybrid network use cases.

For more information on Telesat Lightspeed and why it’s a different kind of LEO constellation please click here.   


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