With the first of the 5G networks beginning operations in 2019, business and consumer excitement for 5G is growing. While these initial deployments will be small in scale and relegated to urban areas, it is a critical first step toward 5G services becoming a global reality.
At the core of the acceleration of 5G deployment is the development of standards that will serve as the backbone to the network of networks. These will enable companies to utilize multiple technologies to solve their complex communications needs and importantly, exploit and capitalize on the new opportunities that 5G will bring. At Intelsat, we believe today’s high-performing, space-based networks, with their technological advances, ubiquitous coverage, ability to meet quality standards, and end-to-end managed services, will play a major role in the 5G ecosystem.
As a company, we have been active in advocating and developing strategies that can fully exploit the value of satellite communications and ensure that our technology is seamlessly integrated into any 5G network. Intelsat is a member of multiple organizations playing critical roles in the setting of the standards that will govern 5G development and operations, such as 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) and ATIS (The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions). ATIS has the role of advancing the 5G network, with a focus on North American requirements contributing to a global 5G standard. Through our participation with these two organizations, we have been able to provide critical input on the development of 5G standards and ensure that space-based solutions can be easily plugged into any network wherever and whenever it is needed.
That said, more members of the satellite ecosystem – operators, manufacturers, antenna makers and hardware providers – need to be actively involved in these standards discussions. The development of standards will be essential to ensuring that the networks of the future can support the communications on the move that businesses and consumers are demanding, and the satellite sector cannot sit by and expect the broader telecoms players to automatically include satellite into its 5G plans. We must work with the terrestrial providers, strongly advocate for satellite’s role and ensure that mobile network operators and others can seamlessly, cost-effectively and simply plug in our technology to advance their business strategies and growth objectives.
There is also more that needs to be done with the satellite ecosystem to further simplify how our technology is integrated within the broader communications network. Operators must move away from the idea of the closed-architecture environment and focus on open standards for ground equipment, developing small and simple devices and antennas and plug-and-play terminals that have simple cross compatibility with the rest of the telecom industry for seamless integration.
This will be further enhanced as we bring software-defined satellites to market. The next generation of the Intelsat EpicNG platform will be software-defined, which will reduce time to market considerably and enable us to more quickly respond to the dynamic shifts in 5G demand around the world.
Standardization along the ecosystem – from space to ground – removes the complexity and costs that can be both the perception and the reality of the satellite sector. Failure to adopt this approach could result in satellite being classified as a niche player in the next-generation of global communications. But when you get to an environment where you build equipment that is standards-based, less expensive and massively deployable, you make satellite a critical node for 5G networks – a part of the larger end-to-end networks that will satisfy demand while also enabling new opportunities for everyone in the communications sector.
And the opportunities will be there. GSMA is forecasting that 5G networks will cover one-third of the world’s population and support as many as 1.2 billion connections by 2025. For example, forecasts estimate a $256 billion connected car market by 2023, and the connected vehicle market – cars, trains, heavy equipment for farming and mining, airplanes, and ships – will require continuity of service far beyond the reach of urban 5G networks. This is where satellite can help mobile network operators (MNOs) expand their reach and accelerate adoption. Additional 5G services, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), telemedicine and online education, will require the combined capabilities of the full telecommunications ecosystem to deliver their promised impact.
The past five years have heralded unprecedented change in the communications sector that has expanded broadband services to millions more around the globe, but this is just the beginning. There is still work that must be done to prepare for the 5G revolution and the entire satellite ecosystem must be actively engaged with the broader telecoms landscape. There is a choice: to sit on the sidelines and miss tremendous growth opportunities — or be a part of a larger, global communications framework that will transform businesses and communities for decades to come.