Sateliot and Telefónica extend 5G roaming connection to space

Friday, 04 August, 2023

Sateliot and Telefónica extend 5G roaming connection to space

Satellite telecom operator Sateliot and telecommunications company Telefónica have successfully extended the reach of the 5G network to space, paving the way for massive access to connectivity everywhere on the planet. Testing saw the companies provide satellite coverage extension to Telefónica’s cellular network through standard GSMA roaming, as witnessed by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Founded in 2018, Sateliot has set out to launch the first low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation based on the 5G standard, allowing unmodified commercial cellular NB-IoT NTN (non-terrestrial network) devices to connect from space. Sateliot says this is the first time in history that terrestrial cellular telecommunications will seamlessly merge with satellite connectivity, with the company’s cost-effective technology and the ability to use low-cost commercial devices to connect to satellites opening up endless possibilities in the untapped market of massive IoT in remote areas.

Sateliot showcased end-to-end transmission over Telefónica’s network using a regular SIM card provisioned on Telefónica Tech’s Kite platform on an IoT cellular device, seamlessly switching it to the Sateliot network. The test demonstrated that a standard roaming connection can be authenticated by the Telefónica core through Sateliot networks. It also featured Sateliot’s innovative ‘Store & Forward’ two-step authentication method, created to support standard roaming with a mobile network operator (MNO) and adapted to the NTN in LEO. Store & Forward technology stores data when the satellite is not in position to connect with a ground station and forwards it as it enters the coverage range; this is a particularly relevant feature for Sateliot’s delay-tolerant IoT services for its early-stage constellation, in which the number of satellites is still limited.

“Sateliot has achieved an important milestone by successfully demonstrating the integration of low Earth orbit and NTN (non-terrestrial network) with roaming capabilities in Store & Forward mode, along with two-step authentication into a 5G cellular network,” said Antonio Franchi, Head of Space for 5G and 6G Strategic Programme at the ESA.

“This significant achievement marks a disruptive advancement in the realm of standard satellite IoT services. The successful integration of these technologies paves the way for the digitalisation of the world, revolutionising how we harness satellite capabilities for the benefit of global connectivity and communication.”

The positive results of the demo confirm that 5G IoT devices are able to transmit data through a standard roaming interface using the Store & Forward authentication method, putting Sateliot on track to enter commercial operations in 2024. The results also validate several agreements between Sateliot and stakeholders to improve millions of lives worldwide, with potential applications including the support of 43 million Americans reliant on private water wells; the generation of millions of dollars in savings in maintenance and repairs costs for shipping companies; assistance to South African livestock owners in their fight to stop poaching and improve herd control; and the provision of a more precise crop-monitoring system to farmers worldwide.

“This is the culmination of years of studies and developments of our Store & Forward two-step authentication procedure that gives Sateliot a unique position to establish roaming extension for NB-IoT NTN delay-tolerant applications,” said Sateliot CTO Marco Guadalupi. “We are in front of a game changer in future 3GPP networks that will reduce costs based on low-density constellations and reduced ground segment infrastructure, minimising the impact in space and reducing time to market.”

Starting in 2024, Telefonica expects to be the first MNO to provide to customers with NB-IoT everywhere-on-the-planet connectivity through a seamless combination of cellular and satellite standard NB-IoT networks and with inexpensive commercial standard NB-IoT devices. Carlos Carazo, Technology & Technical Operations Director of IoT and Big Data at Telefónica Tech, concluded, “This is a very important milestone for the industry in which Telefónica natively integrates the satellite network with the NB-IoT networks of Telefónica and Kite, the managed IoT connectivity platform developed by Telefónica Tech.”

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