After more than a decade of research and development we are beginning to see 5G technologies deployed around the world. Although this is most visible through the emerging availability of higher speed public 5G radio networks and devices, it is in the radio and network layer that its impact will be most transformative, through the introduction of software-defined networking, mobile edge computing, and improvements to support industrial Internet of Things (IoT). The billions of dollars of commercial investment in these standards and components make it highly attractive for satellite network operators to consider introducing 5G network solutions as they seek to improve the security, efficiency and performance of their own systems. Even better, by adopting the same software interfaces operators can better integrate with terrestrial networks to create seamless multi-bearer networks with unprecedented reliability and robustness. These features and benefits also offer considerable promise for defence particularly as it seeks more flexible, higher performance and more secure global networking capability.
Aside from the traditional mobile voice and data usage of mobile telephony, 5G introduces the ability to rapidly create services constructed from individual components (network functions) which can be orchestrated and governed by advanced quality-of-service and flow systems. Unlike today, it will be possible to create complete segregated network solutions with specific SLAs for bandwidth, latency, security, and other KPIs.
Each service can even be given its own network slice to create complex network solutions with tuned performance. This makes it attractive for new use cases as diverse as real-time robotics, automated vehicles, smart city monitoring using low-cost IoT sensors, and outdoor/indoor virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) for gaming. Many of these use cases have direct applicability to Defence, such as using AR for outdoor training, optionally crewed vehicles with low power requirements and wide-area security sensor nets. By adopting 5G, Defence will be able to utilize commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices, benefiting from the huge commercial investment in such technology. Another highly attractive feature is the ability for organizations to create their own “private” 5G networks, which are under their own control, but work with COTS mobile devices.
Satellite communications is already beginning to embrace 5G as part of a global connectivity solution. SatCom is already a cost effective and secure way to provide communications over large areas and new satellites can provide higher bandwidths (>100Mbps/user) and lower latencies (<50ms) than ever before. The first place where we are seeing this integration is in the network provisioning and management layer, so that the same network management system can be used to seamlessly instantiate and manage combined SatCom-to-SatCom or SatCom-to-terrestrial networks. Development is also underway of a 5G radio layer to be provided from space using standard commercial devices, initially for IoT and, eventually, for broadband speeds. This could be a game-changer, as a subscriber can use a single handheld smart-device to access the same “home” 5G network slice anywhere in the world, without needing to deploy any specialized equipment. Indeed, imagine being able to reliably and securely use your mobile device anywhere in the world, under any conditions – this dream is now in sight. Based on over 40 years’ experience in SatCom and telecoms, CGI is already working with organisations developing these capabilities and building 5G/SatCom private networks for our customers.