The 3rd Generation Partnership Project Looking to Standardize Non-Terrestrial Networks Technology

Dec 02, 2019

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an international standards organization, has started standardizing NTN (Non-Terrestrial Networks) technology that provides satellite-based data communication for Smartphones.
NTN technology, which uses a low earth orbit satellite that covers the entire area of the earth, is seen as an innovative telecommunication technology that reduces areas where signals are unavailable and accelerates convergent services such as next-generation drones.
3GPP is planning to decide NTN as a work item under ‘Release 17’ during a meeting that will take place on the 9th. Unlike study items that look for whether a research is possible or not, work items are part of a step where technology standards are actually made. In other words, commercialization of satellite data communication technology will be taking a step forward.
NTN is used as a base station or a repeater that covers the entire area of the earth by launching thousands of low earth orbit satellites that will be at an altitude of 200km to 1,000km. Main purpose of current satellites such as Iridium satellite and Globalstar satellite is voice communications. On the other hand, NTN technology allows normal mobile network service to operate at a speed of at least 50Mbps.
3GPP is planning to implement NTN technology as ‘single chip’ and apply it to Smartphones after starting with automotive devices and routers that are equipped with small satellite antennas. Next-generation 5G Smartphones will be able to have stable data communication without any area where signal is unavailable by selecting satellite or 5G depending on an environment.
When NTN technology is commercialized, it is expected that stable data communication will be provided while reducing the cost of constructing base stations in mountainous areas and remote areas. It is also expected to help ships to sail more safely as maritime communication can be provided more smoothly. Foundation for innovative convergent services will be prepared regarding operation of drones and unmanned ships.

Concept diagram of operation of satellites by Korea Aerospace Industries <Concept diagram of operation of satellites by Korea Aerospace Industries>

Experts believe that NTN technology will solve use of superhigh frequency, cost of launch vehicle, and cost of satellite issues and that it will provide momentum towards commercialization of NTN technology.
Within the field of mobile network, superhigh frequency (mmWave) technology has developed so that up to 28GHz band can be used. Groundwork for technologies where Smartphones can also use Ka band (26.5 to 40GHz) and Ku band (12GHz to 18GHz) that are used by satellites has been prepared.
Regarding satellite launch vehicle, SpaceX’s launch vehicle recycling technology has reduced the cost of a launch vehicle by 10 times. It has also become possible to mass-produce small communications satellites suitable for low earth orbit satellites.
Although NTN technology is yet to be standardized, multinational companies have started making necessary preparations on full-scale while envisioning ‘satellite internet’. Tesla has started on Starlink project while looking to create a telecommunication network that covers the entire area of the earth through 40,000 low earth orbit satellites.
OneWeb, which received investments from Airbus and Chairman Masayoshi Son of SoftBank, is looking to dominate telecommunications services in developing countries with thousands of satellites.
NTN technology is expected to be standardized during the first half of 2021. New satellite-based telecommunication technologies can be commercialized by 2025. It is expected that NTN technology will be mentioned as an important item during a meeting for standardization of 6G mobile network.
“KPI (Key Performance Indicator) of NTN technology will be outlined during a meeting that will be held on the 9th.” said a satellite communications expert.
Experts from ETRI (Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute) and others in South Korea are participating in 3GPP’s discussions for standardization of NTN technology. Ministry of Science and ICT applied for a preliminary feasibility test for a ‘stationary orbit public communications satellite development project’ although it is unrelated with standardization of NTN technology in order to deal with satellite communications and prepare for satellite communications eras in the future.
Staff Reporter Park, Jisung | jisung@etnews.com

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