Catapult Leading Pioneering Research and Demonstration of LEO Satellite Integration in 5G Networks

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The Satellite Applications Catapult is leading on three innovative studies which will work towards developing the technology required for a future of seamless, worldwide 5G connectivity. Funded by the UK Space Agency under the National Space Innovation Programme, the BRAIL (Backhaul and Radio Access Integrating LEO) project will demonstrate the use of intelligent satellite backhaul (data transfer), with the innovative use of mixed GEO (Geostationary Orbit) and LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites.

Hybrid solutions linking base stations to a cellular core network are already in use. These generally comprise of a mix of terrestrial (e.g. fibre, microwave) and satellite communications, where GEO satellites are used as the backhaul option. The addition of LEO satellites will not only improve the resilience of the network and reduce the risk of losing connection, it will also offer improved capabilities such as higher bandwidth and lower latency. This project will see the formulation of a testbed at the Catapult’s 5G Step-Out Centre at the Westcott Venture Park, Buckinghamshire, with the move of OneWeb’s ATLAS simulation platform to the site for demonstrating the integration of its LEO technology with the Catapult’s 5G network.

The advances in this technology will look to the future of a ubiquitously connected world, delivering coverage to poorly served areas and to networks where robustness and resilience of such backhaul is critical. Other partners, OneWeb, LiveWire Digital and University of Strathclyde, will bring knowledge and expertise in the integration of various communications technologies to shape innovative architectures.

The BRAIL project, which will run until March 2021, will consist of the following three areas:

  1. 4G/LTE Remote Backhaul

This will demonstrate the use of LEO and GEO satellites as a backup for a Macro Cell base station (a main base station) in linking a Crowd Cell base station (a network booster) to the core network for added resilience in an LTE (4G) network. The trial will integrate each source and simulate the loss of signal from each to demonstrate the seamless transition to multiple carriers through the intelligent and automatic switching capability during a voice call.

  1. 5G Remote Backhaul

This will demonstrate two UK firsts: the integration of LEO and GEO satellite backhaul within a 5G network; and demonstrating satellite ability to cope with the 5G network slicing capability. These technical tests will be carried out to simulate situations where the network responds to demand from a diverse range of services and applications that require high resilience, from large IoT data requirements to streaming HD video.

  1. Direct-Satellite 5G

This research study will look at the requirements for a pioneering system of connecting devices directly to a 5G non-terrestrial network, such as satellites. Instead of a terrestrial network with hybrid backhaul solutions, this approach will have the device switching between terrestrial cellular and direct satellite link, in line with the 5G non-terrestrial network advancements within 3GPP (mobile telecommunications standard body). This will allow for even faster and more robust connectivity around the world. More importantly, the work will aim to transform the design evolution of the OneWeb LEO satellite constellation by exploring the architectures and technologies needed to make this a reality.

Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult said: “This pioneering project is the first of its kind, linking the low-latency and high bandwidth capabilities of the OneWeb satellites with our existing 5G network in Buckinghamshire. It will demonstrate how the new generation of low-earth-orbiting (LEO) satellites can work seamlessly with 5G and future communications systems to deliver truly global connectivity. The OneWeb acquisition is an important step towards the UK realising its ambitions in the new commercial space sector, and we look forward to working closely with all partners to showcase this new capability.”