Rita Rinaldo, head of institutional projects at European Space Agency (ESA), talks about if and how the network upgrade will affect the Earth and space
Q: How different is 5G from previous networks, especially 4G?
5G will move us closer to being connected to everything, everywhere at all times and will enable the seamless interworking of different technologies and networks. The integration of satellites in 5G networks will pave way for new applications in domains like agriculture, health and emergency response for user communities living in rural areas. Also, the availability of ubiquitous and secure connectivity will enable development of new services for smart mobility and automated transport, accelerating automation and digital transformation of the whole transport sector from maritime to road to air.
Q: Do 5G mobile networks require more satellites than 4G? If yes, then why?
It really depends on how 5G is implemented over satellites and how satellites will be integrated within the overall 5G architecture. Satellite can play an important role also for direct user access and all this can be achieved, thanks to the exploitation of innovative architectures and technical solutions.
Q: Are these 5G-enabled satellites different from the current crop of communication satellites in space and how?
5G-enabled satellites will implement innovative payload and ground architectures. These, on one hand, will push the limit of offered network throughput and, on the other hand, will fully optimise network resources for increased system efficiency. This will include development of solutions allowing full digitisation, reconfigurability and flexibility of satellite payloads, exploitation of higher frequency bands including optical links, innovative system architectures. The ultimate result will be improved performances in terms of quality of service (availability, throughput and reliability).
Q: By when will the satellites be in place for a full-scale implementation of 5G networks?
There are many initiatives already shaping up targeting the development of large Low Earth Orbit (LEO) / Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations as well as ultra-high throughput Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) broadband satellites. On the network integration side, there is a lot of effort currently going on. It includes Space 4 5G ESA initiative to ease the satellite integration within the overall network. Within the next few years we will start to see the results of this effort. The implementation will continue to evolve as the market needs will ask for more satellite resources.
Also read: ‘5G is unlikely to cause health concerns’
Q: If more satellites are required, what would it mean for the rapidly accumulating space junk/debris?
This is an important point which deserves particular attention. There are currently more than 22,300 individual pieces of space debris that we have been able to identify and regularly track, but this number is set to increase if nothing is done to mitigate the issue. ESA is dedicating a particular effort towards the development of technologies which will help mitigate the issue of increased space debris that a larger number of satellites will produce. These include approaches for end-of-life disposal as well as new techniques for the development of satellites capable to generate less debris by design. In addition, ESA is promoting a code of conduct to be implemented by satellite missions and a full set of requirements for space debris mitigation for agency projects.
Q: Such advanced networks will also mean greater power in the hands of corporations and governments for surveillance? How can the misuse of such power be prevented?
Reliable and secured communications are more and more required in an institutional setting, in support of societal needs such as those related to crisis management, maritime safety or border control. 5G networks will better surveillance means allowing real-time secure communications from and to areas not covered by terrestrial 5G.