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SES Leads Satellite-enabled 5G Tests


Mobile operators have used satellite connectivity - typically GEO -- for years to backhaul traffic from cell sites in remote or rural areas without fiber or have low bandwidth needs.

All this changed when SES's O3b constellation was launched back in 2013. Today, the throughput and low latency of SES's medium earth orbit (MEO) constellation is used by mobile operators around the world to provide 4G LTE connectivity.

As SES has worked to make its GEO and MEO multi-orbit platform more open and integrated with terrestrial networks, it is opening up new options for mobile operators who are unaware of how satellite could seamlessly extend the reach of their networks.

To showcase some of these new 5G possibilities, SES recently completed multiple field tests and technical demonstrations with a major mobile operator and cloud provider in the U.S..

Consumer 5G Services

Having connected some remote locations via GEO and MEO satellite services, a leading U.S. mobile operator wondered how SES's NGSO constellation could be part of its 5G network and decided to invite the SES team to test the capability of its MEO services.

The SES team set up the equipment at the test locations at the mobile operator's facilities in Texas and worked closely with its engineering teams to ensure all the test cases and metrics were captured. The series of tests over an SES O3b MEO satellite included both 4G and 5G voice and data scenarios to measure quality, stress test load capacity and evaluate performance.

The tests - which lasted a week - validated SES's ability to deliver fiber-like performance for mobile operators and came back with some unprecedented results:

10,000 simultaneous calls were maintained over a 10-hour period over a single MEO satellite link

Fiber-quality video latency and an impressive mean opinion score - a common industry measurement of voice quality - of 4.23 out of 5

MEO test configuration delivered 900 Mbps aggregate throughput

To really test the link, the mobile operator and SES even initiated the industry's first 5G video call over satellite by connecting a 5G handset to a 5G Ultra Wideband eFEMTO at each location. The engineers waved their arms and jumped up and down while talking without any perceived lag or delay, validating the low latency of the connection.

According to Christian Rodriguez, SES's Senior Engineer of the O3b mPOWER system and technical lead for the testing project, While impressed by the capacity and performance of the voice and data tests, the mobile operator's team couldn't believe the quality of the 5G video call - they didn't think a high-quality 5G experience over satellite was possible. It really opened their eyes to the new options what our MEO system can provide to various use cases.

Private Networks with a Cloud-hosted 5G Core

The shift to 5G is also opening up a new opportunity for private networks that offer more secure wireless communications with low-latency and high-bandwidth for a variety of enterprise, industrial, transportation and other applications.

The challenge for private networks is they typically require an enterprise or smaller operator to purchase various pieces of equipment from vendors and then install and maintain it, typically requiring a significant capital investment upfront to get the network operational. Or, in some cases large mobile operators are buying and installing the equipment and offering it as a managed service. What companies really want is a private network service with the pay-as-you-grow business model and elastic scale of the public cloud.

To demonstrate that option, SES recently worked with a major U.S.-based cloud provider to demonstrate how easy it is to set up a satellite-enabled private network using a cloud-hosted 5G core. For the demo, a 5G smartphone was connected to a private network set up in an office building outside of Seattle. That network was connected to a 5G core hosted in a public cloud facility in Ashburn, Virginia, through an SES Cloud Direct connection over SES's MEO network.

Underscoring the power and simplicity of a cloud-hosted 5G core, the entire demo was set-up and run by a single person (who is not an engineer!). Using off-the-shelf equipment, software modules in the cloud and our low-latency MEO connectivity, the demo achieved around 100 milliseconds of latency between the locations.

While a proof of concept, the demo highlights how enterprise customers or smaller operators can capitalise on the private network market opportunity using low-cost equipment and the public cloud to create a solution that is right for their organisation and can scale with demand.

Upcoming O3b mPOWER

As mobile operators around the world look for new ways to extend their networks to open new markets and attract new customers - whether consumers with 5G devices or enterprises deploying private networks - these tests help underscore the critical role MEO satellites are playing in global communications.

The upcoming launch of SES's next-generation O3b mPOWER system has never been timelier. The flexible and scalable MEO constellation will be able to extend and enhance operators' networks and backhaul traffic from the edge to the core. More importantly, O3b mPOWER will bring a reduced footprint of physical equipment, much faster deployment times, and zero touch provisioning to automate service delivery - especially critical for high-value 5G applications and use cases.
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