The European Space Agency (ESA) Explores the Role of Satellites for 5G & 6G

ESA, The European Space Agency, in its own words is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

Like every other organisation involved in telecoms, ESA is looking at how 6G mobile communications technology will impact the world and what role will satellites play in providing the 6G connectivity. In their recently updated whitepaper, '6G and Satellites: Intelligent Connectivity for a Sustainable Future' they explain their 6G vision. Quoting from the paper:

ESA is ready for 6G. Through its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES 4.0) and the Space for 5G and 6G Strategic Programme Line, ESA will guide and support its industrial partners in the development of new 6G satellite technologies, and of applications and solutions that utilise 6G connectivity. ESA seeks to unify the architectures of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks, to provide ubiquitous, seamless, versatile, resilient and sustainable connectivity.

6G is the sixth-generation technology standard for mobile networks. The integration of satellites with 6G is increasingly important, not only to leverage the successes of 5G integration, but also to increase the contribution that satellites can play in the ever evolving global connectivity requirements. With 6G, the end user can be anything from a person with a device to an autonomous drone, a robot, a heart monitor, an AI security application, and more. 6G will add connective intelligence to the hierarchy of connected people and things. It will offer unrivaled performance characteristics through the creation of the world’s largest neural network with integrated sensing, learning, and processing capabilities.

AI will bolster the capabilities of the network, continuously optimising and reconfiguring it for peak performance. The 5G Industry Association has declared 6G to be a “self-contained eco-system of artificial intelligence”.

Communications networks will serve as sensors, enabling a better understanding of the physical world and providing a broad range of services.

Moreover, 6G will enhance the existing 5G attributes and fully integrate them with the 6G standard.

ESA is ready for 6G. ESA will be the organisation that guides its industrial partners in the development of new 6G satellite technology, and the migration of existing telecommunication applications from 5G to 6G seamlessly, securely, and sustainably. Through its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES 4.0), ESA seeks to join with like-minded industries working towards the development of satellite technologies and applications that use 6G connectivity, and the orbiting and sub-orbiting platforms that provide them for Europe and the world. ESA will unify the data architectures of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks, to make satellite connectivity the most versatile and resilient ever imagined.

ESA is on course to be the first to launch a 6G-enabling satellite into orbit. If European industry wants to be competitive and at the forefront of 6G development and integration with terrestrial testbeds, then a satellite testbed needs to be in orbit around 2024. In order for integration of satellites to be successful in 6G, terrestrial industry partners must be able to experiment and test in a real environment that can only be provided by a 6G laboratory in space.

This 6G laboratory allows for the R & D process to be realised early in 6G adoption so that Industry can learn and adapt their products to work side by side with terrestrial communication infrastructure. ESA views this laboratory as an open innovation opportunity, where researchers and industry experts can collaborate in space and at home to gain an the understanding of 6G before it arrives.

The Space for 5G/6G and Sustainable Connectivity Strategic Programme Line aims to promote, develop and validate converged hybrid space networks where satellites are fully integrated into the connectivity of telecommunications infrastructure. The programme helps upstream and downstream industry partners benefit the European economy through partnerships that introduce new applications of technology based on 6G. Just as ESA guided the standardisation of 5G for Europe, the agency will continue to lead and support the space industry in developing satellites, space networks, solutions and applications, contributing to successfully achieving the objectives of 6G connectivity.

Last month a webinar took place on Open In-Orbit 6G Laboratory. You can view the details here and the webinar slides are available here.

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