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From Space to Earth: Satellite integration for 5G

5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks which will bring new opportunities for people, businesses and corporations through faster speed, higher traffic capacity, low-latency communications and enhanced positioning. The applications of this technology range across drone delivery, self-driving machines, cargo logistics, augmented reality, Internet of Things, remote education, telemedicine solutions, environmental monitoring and smart cities.

There is a tremendous need for digitalisation that promises to revolutionize business in the near future. 5G, currently in its early deployment phase, promises to bring all the connectivity and coverage required to complete this transformation and is expected that by the end of 2020 over 1 billion people will live in 5G coverage area. For this purpose, the complementary use of communication and satellite navigation assets together with ground networks is essential to bring bandwidth and capacity in a safe, reliable and seamless way around the world.

ESA’s role in 5G development


ESA wants to be at the forefront of this technology with the 5G Hub, a research, innovation and collaboration center, which will be part of ESA’s European Center for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) located at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, UK. The main purpose is to host companies from the 5G ecosystem (satellite and terrestrial network operators, equipment providers and application developers) to partner with ESA to test their technology and discover how satellite and terrestrial communication networks can converge to create innovative applications. Space technology can increase reach and improve data protection and reliability and fill the gaps in ground based networks.

This combination of technologies is already fuelling new R&D projects in the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) field. The GNSS Integration into 5G wireless networks or GINTO5G, an activity funded by ESA´s European GNSS Evolution Programme (EGEP) programme, is a project aimed at determining the positioning accuracy of hybrid GNSS and 5G solution tested for autonomous vehicles, drones, smart cities and the Internet of Things.

Starting with 2016, the ESA 5G GNSS Task Force within Horizon 2020 took the initiative to shape the support of high-accuracy positioning services in 4G and 5G networks. During the last years ESA became a constant presence to 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), where it joined forces with the telecommunication community and several European GNSS companies to achieve an optimal inclusion of European GNSS into 5G worldwide standards. This work is expected to continue during the next years and is focused on adding integrity features to the already supported high-accuracy positioning enabled by GNSS.

ESA’s funding opportunities and calls


The ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions (BASS) programme is currently funding several feasibility studies and projects that demonstrate the added value of 5G in providing ubiquitous 5G coverage as enabler to new applications and business models in transport, smart cities, safety and security domains.

In particular, 5G connectivity allows for seamless Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2X) communication to support high frequency and low latency data sharing in the context of the future intelligent transport solutions. These are the main objectives of the UK project CoDRIVE aiming at providing car manufacturers with highly integrated low-cost geospatial information platform responding to the requirements of the future Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) enabling smart network management for local authorities, promoting efficient traffic control, safer route planning, thereby reducing congestion and the carbon footprint.

To further cement its role as a leading actor in the demonstration of the benefits of seamless 5G networks, ESA BASS has closed several partnerships agreements with cities, regions and governmental departments to launch joint calls for proposals aiming at fostering the emergence of space-based applications utilising 5G networks addressing different areas of applications, such as transport, security, shipping and natural and artistic heritage enhancement. Most prominent example is the call “Space and 5G Convergence: Transport & Logistics” issued in partnership with the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) looking at supporting the emergence of services relying on converged 5G terrestrial and satellite communication networks improving efficiency and environmental sustainability in the logistics sector.

The upcoming Announcement of Opportunity (AO) “Space for smart and unmanned shipping”, an activity funded by ESA´s BASS and Navigation Innovation and Support Programme (NAVISP), aims to support the development of space based downstream services and solutions relying on advanced technologies such as 5G and PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Timing) in the smart and uncrewed shipping domain.

In the context of smart cities, the agreements with the cities of L’Aquila, Rome and Torino are the basis for issuing a number of thematic calls focused on the needs of the municipalities (5G for L’ART). Following the successful calls on protection and fruition of cultural heritage and on safety and law enforcement, the new Announcement of Opportunities called “Intelligent Transport”, funded by ESA´s BASS programme, addresses topics such as sustainable and safe mobility and advanced traveller advisory systems. The projects will demonstrate the value of space assets integrated with 5G networks and/or the potential of 5G networks to augment space assets performance.

Lastly, NAVISP has launched a Thematic Open Call under its Element 2 to implement pilot projects to demonstrate the viability of 5G PNT solutions in use cases representative of Industry 4.0, smart cities and critical users demanding a robust back-up to satellite navigation positioning and timing.

For more information, visit our business opportunities section.


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