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Non-Terrestrial Satellite Networks on the Ascent

Sept. 29, 2023
The 3GPP’s 2022 standards for non-terrestrial networks have spawned a boom in convergence of satellite communications and cellular networks.

This article is part of the TechXchanges: IoT & Narrowband Communications and The Internet of Things (IoT).

In June 2022, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) published standards for integration of non-terrestrial networks (NTNs, or satellite networks) with terrestrial 5G networks. The goal of such integration is to use satellite constellations to deliver mobile services and network access to remote areas, and the hoped-for result is a new era of IoT/IIoT and mobile connectivity.

A recent whitepaper published by New York-based ABI Research digs into emerging trends and key players in the NTN mobile market. The satcom industry is seeing a profound impact from the opportunities afforded by the NTN-terrestrial network convergence. Operators like Globalstar, Intelsat, OneWeb, OQ Technology, Sateliot, SpaceX, Viasat, and others are scrambling for collaborations with IoT solution providers such as eSAT Global, hiSky, Skylo Technologies, and Wyld Networks that will result in IoT services with ubiquitous connectivity.

Meanwhile, the giants in smartphones and mobile chipsets like Apple, Huawei, MediaTek, Motorola, Qualcomm, and ZTE are all pushing forward with support for satellite communications by means of Narrowband-NTN, NTN unmodified, and, eventually, 5G New Radio-NTN.

All of this is helped along by smaller satellite form factors and greatly reduced launch costs. Satellite constellations in low Earth orbit lend themselves to low-latency, high-throughput network deployments, which in turn drives adoption of satcom services in the global telecommunications market. ABI Research foresees $124.6 billion in annual satellite-services revenue by the end of this decade.

Some of the trends that will define the NTN mobile market include:

  • NTN as a mitigator of cellular network disconnectivity: An analysis by Lynk shows that some 3 billion mobile users experience long periods of cellular outage every year. NTN connectivity can be the technology that fills in those gaps.
  • Emergency services will dominate early satellite-to-mobile opportunities: In the short term, emergency services communications using NB-IoT and NTN unmodified devices will comprise most use cases. While terrestrial networks can fail during natural disasters, NTNs serve as a backstop to keep cellular coverage up and running for calls to first responders.
  • Enterprise opportunities are in business-critical applications in hard-to-reach areas: NTN mobile will be important in remote operations for rural workers, transportation, utilities, oil and gas, mining, and logistics.

On top of that, look for opportunities in satellite IoT, especially in use cases of low complexity and data transmissions that are aperiodic. In these applications, energy saving is important. This means things like fleet management, condition-based monitoring, and asset tracking. Demand for satellite IoT services is being driven by the greater availability of LEO deployments, lower satellite launch costs, and CubeSat technology, which often can be built with off-the-shelf components and “piggybacked” onto other launch missions.

Read more articles in the TechXchanges: IoT & Narrowband Communications and The Internet of Things (IoT).