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How space helps connect everyone everywhere


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08/09/2022
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Staying in touch with each another always, no matter whereabouts on Earth, is crucial for everything from driverless cars to remote healthcare, electronically enabled commerce, tele-education and remote working.

Maintaining such connections relies not only on next-generation terrestrial 5G networks but also on satellites to make the connection when people and devices are in hard-to-reach areas.

ESA is working with satellite communications company OneWeb, the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey and CGI, one of the largest IT and business services firms in the world, to showcase a space-enabled 5G network that tests the integration of satellites in low Earth orbit and terrestrial mobile 5G networks.

The 5G pilot test project forms part of ESA’s Sunrise Partnership Project with support from the UK Space Agency.

The consortium will further develop how satellites in low Earth orbit can bring fast and high-bandwidth connectivity to those areas that are currently impossible to reach via traditional terrestrial services.

Massimiliano Ladovaz, Chief Technical Officer at OneWeb, said: “Creating an interoperable low Earth orbit satellite communications and mobile 5G network is critical to achieve a ubiquitous, affordable, fast and consistent connectivity experience to businesses, users and governments.

“That is why we are excited by this opportunity to test the future of global 5G connectivity across the OneWeb network. With our talented partners and with the support from ESA and the UK Space Agency, this pilot is an important step in our mission to connect people everywhere, on land, at sea and in the air, providing the opportunity for people to realise their full potential even in the remotest reaches of the planet.”

Rahim Tafazolli, Regius Professor and Head of the Institute for Communications at the University of Surrey, said: “Satellite systems are key enablers for 5G services and they will become increasingly integrated with communications networks as we progress beyond 5G towards 6G in solving cost-effectively the societal challenge of the digital divide.

“The University of Surrey’s 5G & 6G Innovation Centre is delighted to be participating in the 5G pilot project, providing key network functionality, innovation and test-bed facilities, as part of our ongoing strategy to remain at the cutting edge of networking and satellite research and expertise.”

Shaun Stretton, Senior Vice President for Space Control and Information Solutions at CGI in the UK, said: “Fully integrated 5G hybrid networks bring the promise of ubiquitous, seamless and high-speed connectivity to us all. Mobile platforms bring unique challenges in realising this vision, making projects like the 5G pilot incredibly important. At CGI we have been leading the way in making these complex integrated networks a reality and we are very much looking forward to working with our world-class partners to further address these challenges so that we can bring these game-changing capabilities to market.”

Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said: “ESA is at the forefront of 5G/6G innovation, supporting industry and academia to be the world champions of the digital transformation race. ESA’s Sunrise Partnership Project is the best vehicle to validate disruptive connectivity pilots through space and terrestrial infrastructures, in cooperation with OneWeb, the University of Surrey and CGI.

“ESA will continue promoting the excellence of the European and Canadian space industries and academia, pushing technology barriers and preparing new commercial services for the benefits of its citizens.”

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