The Sat5G project aims to use satellite communications to plug gaps in 5G backhaul and coverage (image courtesy of wi260).
The SaT5G project has completed several successful demonstrations of video delivery combining 5G with satellite at the 2019 European Conference on Networks and Communications (EuCNC 2019) in Valencia, Spain.
The underlying objective was to integrate satellite and 5G cellular communications so that mobile coverage can be extended to users or application categories that would otherwise not be reached, or more generally to facilitate more cost-effective high-quality video delivery. The goal is then to achieve this by developing a cost effective "plug and play" satcom model for 5G for mobile operators to accelerate 5G deployment across all geographies and potential use cases, without being hampered by lack of relevant terrestrial infrastructure or delays deploying it.
Obvious use cases then include providing 5G coverage in centers of population that are remote, as in parts of Africa where it would not be cost effective to deploy terrestrial fiber backhaul connecting the local radio base stations. It also includes delivery of Internet services to aircraft, which was one of the SaT5G demonstrations. This is designed for the next generation of inflight entertainment services to passengers and connectivity, combining satellite for backhaul to 5G technology on board the aircraft. This was conducted in partnership with Zodiac Inflight Innovations' virtualized A320 airplane cabin mock-up and connectivity infrastructure, a content delivery network (CDN) from France’s Broadpeak, Gilat Satellite Networks' Taurus VSAT unit and virtualized satellite hub, i2CAT's terrestrial satellite resource coordinator (TALENT), Quortus' mobile network core and SES's low latency high throughput O3b MEO satellite constellation.
There was also significant interest in the role of satellite communications in edge computing within 5G networks to facilitate live video streaming at low latency. The aim here is to exploit the emerging architecture of Multi-access edge computing (MEC), designed to enable cloud computing at the edge of a network. MEC is gaining momentum for mobile networks because of the potential for offloading traffic and so reducing congestion over backhaul networks by distributing applications and related tasks closer to customers at edge nodes or cellular base stations themselves.
One of the demonstrations showed how a network that combines 5G over parallel satellite and terrestrial delivery paths can enhance Quality of Experience (QoE) for consumption of high resolution 4K video content. The point is that this combined network connecting to MECs can adapt bit rates more effectively and swap between the links to enhance video stream quality. This demonstration involved Avanti's high throughput HYLAS 4 GEO satellite capacity, a 5G Innovation Centre from the University of Surrey in the UK, and VT iDirect's 5G enabled satellite hub platform and satellite terminals.
There was also a demonstration of local content caching using MEC technology at the edge of 5G, again with a hybrid backhaul network. The innovation here was to support connections for downloading content with the DASH Enabled Network Element (DANE), which can now handle satellite and terrestrial links simultaneously.
Then there was another demonstration of this hybrid 5G backhauling to extend existing 5G services to rural markets and also for temporary large events. This showed that QoE can be improved by combining satellite links for fast upload/download traffic, with the terrestrial links used for low latency interactive traffic. The new multipath protocols used for 5G hybrid backhauling enable satellite to provide a viable backhaul link for 5G in situations where it is possible to combine the two effectively with terrestrial low latency links are available for more delay sensitive interactive traffic.
The SaT5G consortium, comprising 16 partners, was set up in large part to address technical challenges associated with effective “plug and play” satcom/5G deployments. One challenge has been to virtualize satcom network functions such that they are compatible with the 5G SDN/NFV (Software Defined Network/Network Functions Virtualization) architecture. This was essential for example to enable the hybrid backhauling so that the satellite links appeared to the 5G network as conventional terrestrial links.
The combination of SDN and NFV will play a crucial role in virtualizing 5G infrastructures so that a single network can support the greater number of use cases envisaged, without requiring multiple physical configurations at higher cost, more bandwidth and greater complexity. NFV allows a physical network to be separated into multiple virtual networks, or network slices, that can support different radio access networks (RANs) or services for specific customer segments. Network slices are then isolated from each other such that the user experience is the same as it would have been on a physically separate network.
Another challenge addressed by SaT5G has been to mitigate the imbalance in QoS and latency between satellite and cellular access, which was essential to ensure that the hybrid networks deliver optimal QoE for users.
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