Thales, Qualcomm, Ericsson To Test Space-based 5G Network Tech

An LEO satellite-based 5G network could complement the terrestrial cellular network.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Aerospace company Thales Group, mobile phone chip maker Qualcomm Technologies and telecommunications company Ericsson plan to test and validate low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite-based 5G network technologies for mobile phones.

The tests could pave the way for a space-based 5G network that could provide connectivity anywhere on Earth, including regions previously only covered by conventional satellite phones, Ericsson said on July 11. 

Despite interest in consumer devices, the trio of companies say governments may be the main customer of space-based 5G.

“The expected security capabilities of 5G [non-terrestrial networks] mean that national government communications may be a main use case, to enhance safe and secure national security and public safety government networks,” Ericsson says.

Still, the companies believe 5G could improve roaming services and serve as a backup for terrestrial networks knocked out by disasters. Industries such as transportation, energy and the health sector may also find uses for space-based 5G, they say.

“This testing and validation cooperation between Ericsson, Thales and Qualcomm Technologies will be a major milestone in the history of communications,” says Erik Ekudden, Ericsson chief technology officer. “The ultimate result could effectively mean that no matter where you are on Earth–in the middle of an ocean or the remotest forest–high-end, secure and cost-effective connectivity will be available through collaborative 5G satellite and terrestrial connectivity.”

Initial tests will take place in an “emulated space environment” in France, Ericsson says. 

“Experts will use ground-based equipment to emulate the 5G radio propagation and time delays between an equipped satellite in orbit and connecting a 5G smartphone with the 5G radio access network at different places on the Earth’s surface,” the company says.

Ericsson plans to test a 5G virtualized radio access network stack, modified to handle radio signals being transmitted from fast-moving LEO satellites and propagating through Earth’s atmosphere. Thales will test a 5G radio satellite payload for LEO satellites. Qualcomm Technologies plans to test phones to validate that a space-based 5G network can be accessed by future 5G smartphones.

Garrett Reim

Based in the Seattle area, Garrett covers the space sector and advanced technologies that are shaping the future of aerospace and defense, including space startups, advanced air mobility and artificial intelligence.