Ericsson, Thales, and Qualcomm Technologies partnered to take 5G out of this world and onto a network of Earth-orbiting satellites. Following detailed research that included multiple studies and simulations, the parties intend to begin smartphone-use-case-focused testing and validation of 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTN).

This will provide future 5G smartphones with 5G connectivity anywhere on Earth along with global wideband data service coverage, including areas where only legacy satellite phone systems with limited data connectivity capabilities are available. The advantages of 5G connectivity via low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are expected to include coverage in extreme geographies or remote areas such as seas, oceans, and other locations where terrestrial coverage is unavailable.

Erik Ekudden, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Ericsson, commented, “This testing and validation cooperation between Ericsson, Thales, and Qualcomm Technologies will be a major milestone in the history of communications as 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.”

This widespread connectivity would improve 5G smartphone subscriber roaming service capabilities while also enabling global connectivity for 5G use cases in transportation, energy, and health. In the event of major network outages or disasters, the space-based network could also be used to provide backup support to terrestrial networks. Because of the expected security capabilities of 5G NTNs, national government communications might be the primary use case, with the goal of improving national security, public safety, and government networks.

John Smee, senior vice president of engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, stated, “For 5G to fulfill the promise of ubiquitous connectivity, it is imperative that it can also deliver network coverage in areas where terrestrial cellular networks do not exist, whether that be over oceans or in remote areas. Our planned research with Ericsson and Thales will kick off an important step in making this vital technology a reality. We are looking forward to what this collaboration can accomplish.”

After the approval by 3GPP, the global telecommunications standards body for testing, and validation. Ericsson, Thales, and Qualcomm Technologies are ready to support non-terrestrial networks for the first time. The testing will aim to validate various technology components required to enable 5G non-terrestrial networks, such as a 5G smartphone, satellite payload, and ground-based 5G network pieces. This research also aims to demonstrate that 5G NTN can be supported in a smartphone form factor, allowing tomorrow’s 5G smartphone to function as a satellite phone. Initial tests will be conducted in a simulated space environment in France, which is home to the majority of Europe’s space-focused industry.

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