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Upcoming 3GPP Release 17 to Include Satellite in Global 5G Standard


Recently, Dr. Lin-Nan Lee, vice president of Engineering at Hughes, participated in one of the digital programs associated with the SATELLITE 2021 conference that looked at unique connectivity challenges and opportunities in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Asia regions. Moderated by Aarti Holla of the EMEA Satellite Operator’s Association (the session’s sponsor), the panel explored 5G and issues related to global standards.

Dr. Lee explained, “At Hughes and EchoStar, we think that essentially everyone and everything need to be connected, across every geography, using every application — from consumer broadband to global business networks, ships, planes, soldiers, first responders and farmers, and many more. Full integration of satellite into the 5G ecosystem will open new market opportunities for satellite solutions and bring 5G users worldwide all the benefits of seamless global communications.”

Yet satellite had not been positioned as a critical component for the world’s 5G network until recently, when the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) agreed to include satellite in their upcoming release of global standards.

Prior to the formation of 3GPP in 1998, each country had its own standards. 3GPP united several standards organizations developing protocols for mobile telecommunications, including radio access networks, and core network and terminals. As 3G networks and standards evolved into 4G and now 5G, the consortium retained its original name.

The anticipated Release-17 of global standards by 3GPP, due out in early 2022, will be the first to include input from non-terrestrial network (NTN) groups and to address satellite’s role in the 5G vision.

“We are very excited that NTN is finally a significantly recognized group within 3GPP,” he said. EchoStar/Hughes and others have been instrumental in advocating for this change and urging 3GPP to incorporate satellite components.

“If we consider 5G to be a network of networks with true seamless connectivity, inclusive of every wireless network or high-altitude platform like those on aircraft and unmanned arial vehicles, satellite is essential,” Dr. Lee added. Satellite is also a primary means for providing connectivity to underserved and unserved areas, with the ability to do so quickly and cost-effectively when compared to terrestrial wireless communications.

As manufacturers await the upcoming release, they will begin their process to innovate and build according to the new standards. And Hughes will continue to champion the many opportunities made possible by satellite’s inclusion in a global communications ecosystem.