A New Space Race: LEO Satellite in 5G Networks

24th August 2022
Sheryl Miles

A revolution in space networking is rising thanks to a wave of innovation in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. According to McKinsey, around 50,000 satellites will be orbiting in space above our heads by 2030.

Meanwhile, the global satellite communications market will reach $40bn in 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 7%, and may grow even faster in the next ten years.

Low-Earth Orbit Satellite

There are essentially three types of Earth-centred orbits, each offering certain capabilities and advantages: GEO (Geostationary Orbit), MEO (Medium-Earth Orbit), and LEO (Low-Earth Orbit).  

Geostationary Orbit (GEO)

A GEO satellite orbits at an altitude of more than 35,000km from the ground, match the Earth's rotation as it travels, and works for stationary missions such as weather monitoring or TV broadcasting. 

Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO)

A MEO satellite orbits at an altitude of over 5,000km and has been commonly used for navigating applications, including the Global Positioning System (GPS). 

Low-Earth Orbit (LEO)

LEO satellites circle relatively close to Earth's surface, generally with an altitude of up to 2,000km. They have lower latency than the above equivalents, making them ideal for communication and internet services. 

LEO satellites have become increasingly feasible to manufacture, launch, and operate. However, a single LEO satellite is less useful for telecommunication tasks since it moves so fast, making it quite challenging to track. Instead, for communication and network purposes, LEO satellites are launched in groups and work as a part of a large constellation to provide stable connections and achieve continuous global coverage.

LEO Satellites in 5G Networks and Beyond

The ever-increasing number of connected devices and IoT has driven the exploding data usage and propelled the need for extra bandwidth and ubiquitous connectivity. Yet, the development of 5G network infrastructures is still lagging far behind in meeting the demands.

As LEO satellite costs plummet, they play a key role in complementing 5G networks. Satellite Networking makes up for the coverage ‘holes’ and overcomes the limitation of transmission range and high bandwidth costs. In this 5G-space race, one of the main challenges for telcos and Satellite-As-A-Service operators is to realise the integration of satellite and terrestrial network services. To provide integrated service, the operators use satellites for cellular backhaul, the underlying infrastructure that connects cell sites to the central data centres that power the Internet.

Challenges & Requirements

Harsh Environment in Satellites

The harsh environment of space missions may cause severe limitations and damage to electronic components. The main challenges include high radiation levels, low pressure, heavy vibrations, no convective cooling, and extreme temperature (−10 ◦C to +20◦C). Hence, electronic systems and components for spacecraft usually have space-specific certification.

However, in the last few years, more operators have started to manufacture LEO satellites using military-grade commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components, to lower the costs significantly. A few steps away from space-mission certifications, Cervoz's Wide-Temperature technology and our Military-Grade products are ideal candidates for mission-critical operations.

Durable Terrestrial Infrastructure

Currently, one of the deciding points for the market players lies in reliable and economic satellite backhaul fixed infrastructure, such as satellite gateways.

Satellite gateways serve as data exchange points between satellite and terrestrial networks. They are usually installed outdoors with a clear line of sight to guarantee uninterrupted coverage and rooms for future expansion.

Moreover, to support the long lifespan of satellites, the gateways must maintain long-term stable operation to ensure optimum performance. Meanwhile, some players focus on installing smaller user terminals on vehicles or mobile units for ubiquitous mobility and optimum service quality. 

Cervoz have a series of flash, DRAM, and expansion solutions to support diverse, even rugged applications.

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