First 5G Roaming Connection in Space Claimed

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Operator Telefónica and satellite firm Sateliot have achieved a groundbreaking milestone by extending the reach of 5G into space, marking a historic moment in the telecommunications industry. Supervised by the European Space Agency, the test successfully provided satellite coverage extension to Telefónica’s cellular network using a standard GSMA roaming method with a regular SIM card on an IoT cellular device. The device seamlessly switched to the Sateliot network.

The test utilized a technology called ‘Store & Forward,’ a two-step authentication method designed to support standard roaming with an operator and adapted for the Non-Terrestrial Network in low earth orbit. This technology allowed data to be stored when the satellite was out of position to connect with a ground station and then forwarded when it entered the coverage range. This feature is especially useful for Sateliot’s ‘delay-tolerant’ IoT services, given its early-stage constellation with a limited number of satellites.

Both companies assert that this achievement proves the authentication of a standard roaming connection through the Telefónica core via Sateliot networks. As a result, Sateliot is set to enter commercial operations for space-based connectivity in 2024, making Telefónica the first operator to offer customers ‘NB-IoT everywhere-in-the-planet’ connectivity. This combination of cellular and satellite standard NB-IoT network, along with commercial standard NB-IoT devices, enables IoT 5G connectivity even in hard-to-reach areas.

Marco Guadalupi, CTO of Sateliot, expressed excitement over their unique position to establish roaming extension for NB-IoT NTN delay tolerant applications. He emphasized the potential cost reduction based on low-density constellations and reduced ground segment infrastructure, minimizing the impact in space and speeding up time to market. Antonio Franchi, Head of Space for 5G and 6G Strategic Programme at the European Space Agency, also hailed this achievement as a disruptive advancement in the realm of standard satellite IoT services.

In the satellite connectivity space, several firsts have been claimed recently. Lynk demonstrated two-way voice calls over its network, while AST SpaceMobile, alongside AT&T, Vodafone, and Rakuten, made a similar claim when conducting a two-way voice call between the US and Japan. On a less disputed note, BT and OneWeb successfully connected the remote island of Lundy off the Devon coast using LEO satellite technology, providing remote areas with connectivity options.

Overall, these developments signify significant progress in satellite technology, opening up new possibilities for global connectivity and communication.

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