SaT5G: Avanti and ST Engineering iDirect support successful integration of 5G into satellite network
Avanti Communications, the leading Ka-band high throughput satellite operator across Europe, Middle East and Africa and ST Engineering iDirect, the leading satellite ground infrastructure company, have played integral roles in the completion of the successful integration of a commercially available 5G core network into a live satellite network. This marks a major milestone for the initiative and the industry, as it marks the first time a live satellite network has been managed and operated using a standard and unmodified commercially available 5G core network.
The Sat5G project involves the integration of satellite into 3GPP 5G testbed networks. Using the testbeds, several 5G use case demonstrations over live satellite links were performed, with the satellite links performing several different tasks. The project undertook research and demonstrated the benefit of satellite technology in delivering content to the network edge; providing backhaul to cellular base-stations, improving broadband experience to premises, and providing connectivity to aircraft and moving platforms through emulated GEO and over-the-air MEO satellite connectivity.
Two key technological advances in 5G are the virtualization of network functions (VNFs) and the use of end-to-end slices providing network services with specified quality of service (QoS). The SaT5G project successfully designed and deployed several satellite-specific VNFs on OpenStack and Kubernetes, and developed an integrated architecture which allows satellite links to carry network slices seamlessly.
Utilising Avanti’s GEO HYLAS-4 live satellite capacity, ST Engineering iDirect’s 5G-enabled Intelligent Gateway (iGW) satellite ground infrastructure provided the satellite connectivity for the University of Surrey (5GIC) 5G testbed. The integrated 5G Non-Terrestrial-Network (NTN), consisted of a remote terminal installed at 5GIC, which connected over the live satellite to the 5G-enabled ST Engineering iDirect hub installed at Avanti’s ground earth station at Goonhilly. The satellite connection continues to use the native satellite radio at the physical layer. The 5G-enabled Intelligent Hub gateway included physical network functions for terminating the native satellite connection along with a satellite RAN and a standard, and unmodified, commercially available 5G core network, both of which were virtualised.
The 5G -enabled satellite hub connected to the 5GIC testbed using a dedicated L2 connection, which allowed deployment of the satellite connection endpoint within the 5GIC core network. The satellite connection provided an end-to-end L2 over satellite connection between the 5GIC 5G testbed mobile core network and the remote mobile network 5G UE terminals, which are connected via 5G small cells. All the 5GIC testbed use cases used the integrated 5G NTN system for live satellite connectivity to demonstrate the end-to-end use cases.
“Leveraging key technologies in satellite connectivity and our established cooperation with industry partners, the Sat5G project has validated the benefits for specific use cases that are unlocked by 5G,” said Semir Hassanaly, Head, Cellular Backhaul and Trunking at ST Engineering iDirect. “The project has helped us to gain unique experiences and insights which we can capitalize on to align and enhance our offerings to meet the current and future needs of the backhaul, broadcast, aerospace, maritime and government market verticals.”
Simon Watts, SaT5G Project Director, Avanti Communications, added, “Many new developments were made within the SaT5G project to create world leading prototype solutions for the integration of satellite connectivity in to 5G terrestrial networks, laying foundations for the creation of new products and services. These services are likely to depend on the management and orchestration of satellite capacity to allow the Mobile Network Operators to deliver 5G services to their end users. The experience gained within SaT5G will allow Avanti to develop its cellular backhaul solution to include integrated 5G satellite connectivity.”
Mike Fitch, Technical Manager of SaT5G said, “SaT5G is about integrating satellite links with heavy emphasis on standardization to allow trusted operation and to facilitate industry adoption. The focus is on enhanced mobile broadband to fixed and mobile networks, including support for orchestration and slicing, with the satellite links providing backhaul connectivity either alone or in parallel (multilink) connectivity with terrestrial links. Innovations from the project include satellite modem VNFs, business process modelling including brokers, and improved multicast and multilink algorithms for use with satellite”.
Funded by the European Commission, the SaT5G project is one of the programs under its Horizon 2020 program. The SaT5G project aims to develop a cost-effective plug-and-play solution to integrate satellite communications with 5G networks. A key aspect of the project is to engage with standards bodies which, together with the business modelling and technical solutions developed in the project, have provided a foundation for equipment vendors, network operators and service providers to integrate satellite in 5G and future deployments. The project has facilitated new and growing market opportunities for satellite communication industry stakeholders.