Magali Vaissiere, ESA's director of telecommunications and integrated applications (far left) with Thales Alenia Space CEO Jean Loic Galle; Newtec CEO Thomas Van den Driessche; and Avanti Communications CEO David Williams at the Paris Air and Space Show on June 21. Credit: ESA

LONDON — The European Space Agency is working with European satellite makers and operators to harness the opportunities presented to the space industry by the development of 5G mobile networks.

ESA’s director of telecommunications and integrated applications, Magali Vaissiere, joined 16 European satellite industry leaders at the Paris Air Show June 21 to sign a joint statement on collaborating on the Satellite for 5G initiative.

“We see 5G as a market opportunity,” said Vaissiere. “We know that there will be important new demands for new services and we know that terrestrial players are currently preparing to develop this future infrastructure and services to meet the 5G requirements.”

5G networks, to be rolled out within the next decade, will offer extremely low latencies and high capacity, enabling widespread deployment of Internet of Things technologies including autonomous cars, connected factories and smart infrastructure.

The global 5G market will be worth $1.2 trillion by 2026 according to forecasts by networking and telecommunications equipment giant Ericsson, one of the leaders of the 5G technology development.

The Satellite for 5G initiative will run between 2018 and 2020 and possibly beyond. The project will focus on developing technology demonstrations to prove the potential of space systems for 5G networks.

“We need, indeed, that the space solutions are developed early enough,” Vaissiere told SpaceNews. “If they are developed early enough, they could be considered and become essential components of the future 5G. We cannot wait until the terrestrial players are ready with their solutions and services. We have to, in parallel, get ready as the space community.”

Vaissiere said the demonstrations, expected to start within the next few months, will focus on various 5G applications such as connected transport solutions, public safety or entertainment.

“The industry will identify where the satellite is best placed to be the most competitive against terrestrial services and complementary,” said Vaissiere. “One requirement for 5G is to allow the same type of connectivity for anyone, anywhere, anytime and this is where the satellite is needed to complement any kind of terrestrial infrastructure that will be deployed.”

Vaissiere said she expects a plethora of solutions, including those based on low-Earth-orbit constellations and geostationary satellites, to be developed for the particular needs of various applications.

“You will find usage that will be better suited for constellations and others for the ones demanding huge capacity over a small area will probably be better served by geostationary systems,” she said. “You will find space for the two types of solutions.”

Vassiere said ESA’s role in the project is to heighten the space industry’s visibility to the rest of the telecommunications sector and ensure space-based solutions are understood by the terrestrial infrastructure operators.

“I don’t think there is enough awareness,” she said. “People have in mind that space is always expensive, which is not true anymore. There are solutions that provide services at cost that are comparable to terrestrial solutions. This is why we have to keep on explaining what space can deliver now already and maybe tomorrow as well.”

The ‘Satellite for 5G’ initiative is part of ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems program. The agency said the work is in line with existing 5G initiatives championed by the European Commission.

Tereza Pultarova is a London-based science and technology journalist and video producer, covering European space developments for SpaceNews. A native of the Czech Republic, she has a bachelors degree in journalism from the Charles University,...