What role are satellites playing in 5G deployment?

The next generation of mobile connectivity – 5G – has the ability to reshape the world around us. Beyond lower latency gaming and buffer-free video streaming, it is helping to enable activities we could only imagine a decade ago – such as telesurgery, smart electricity grids and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

Of course, all of this is entirely hypothetical unless 5G achieves the widespread availability of coverage it needs to be truly useful. To address this need for universal coverage, satellite technology is being developed.

Why do we need 5G satellites?

For people living in deep rural communities, the scourge of poor or no mobile connectivity will be familiar. This tends to be because it can be expensive for telecoms companies to build masts and infrastructure that will only serve small communities. While steps have been made to address this inequality in terms of rural vs urban connectivity – as tackled by Ofcom in the UK – it’s not a surprise to see that the initial waves of 5G rollout have tended to focus on higher density areas where telecoms providers can reach more customers.

Satellites, while not cheap to develop, may end up being more affordable to build than the infrastructure needed to serve remote parts of the globe with connectivity. They will be instrumental in bringing next generation speeds and service to parts of the world which have previously struggled to get any sort of connection at all.

Are 5G satellites better than antennas?

Satellites have another advantage over masts. Since 5G uses shorter wavelengths and operates at higher frequencies – allowing for the transmission of more data – it needs a higher density of masts to maintain the signal.

This is all well and good in urban areas but is less workable the further that the user gets from the base station. Satellites fix this issue simply because they don’t need the infrastructure that the deployment of a physical network of masts does.

For telecoms providers, satellites also offer the advantage of being tamper free if the public choose to respond to unfounded health concerns. Satellites are also immune to the threat of natural disaster.

What about satellites and the IoT?

5G satellites are also well-positioned to serve the ever-expanding world of IoT. As the Internet of Things continues to grow and become more sophisticated, it needs a consistent connectivity medium that can help it address ongoing security vulnerabilities.

With widespread coverage and broadcast capabilities, satellites are well-positioned to support IoT. They can provide shared uplink connectivity for a massive amount of IoT devices at the same time.

Paired with ‘traditional’ terrestrial infrastructure – such as masts – satellites have the ability to make widespread 5G connectivity a reality. They are also well-placed to support future technological developments, such as the IoT, due to a combination of higher data rates and lower latency.

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