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5G Hybrid : promising a seamless coverage

Cédric Bourrely
Jan 5, 2024

As the rollout of public and private 5G networks gains momentum in the consumer and industrial telecom markets, the convergence of terrestrial and space-based resources continues to become increasingly important for many stakeholders. With the emergence of “New Space”, democratization of satellite access, implementation of common standards and widespread participation by leading tech developers, network hybridization is one of the key trends in today’s connectivity market. 

Until now, satellite network performance has been restricted to applications that do not require high data rates or low latency. Today, with the deployment of satellite constellations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), we can now consider usage and data flows that are compatible with terrestrial 5G. 

By combining the power of terrestrial networks with low-orbit constellation flexibility, hybrid 5G unlocks new opportunities for businesses, paving the way for 5G NTN (non-terrestrial networks). 

Hybrid networks can be used for two key objectives: 

  • Extend operator network coverage for private and business users.   
  • Create connectivity bubbles in the industrial or security sectors, for example for tracking mobile assets.   

Social challenges of hybridization

Digital access has become a fundamental necessity for citizens as well as companies ; white zones, with zero connectivity, will represent 2% of the French population in 2023, mostly living in remote countryside or mountain areas. At the same time, mobile and Internet coverage remains very limited in “gray zones”, which today represent 38% of the French population.  

Today, satellite is the only possible solution for maintaining regional balance. Deploying fiber or installing 4G or 5G antennas in less densely populated regions is not an economical or sustainable alternative. The obvious solution? Develop hybrid coverage, using complementary terrestrial and space networks, for “seamless” broadband connectivity. 

A solution for public safety issues 

Combining terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks also offers a viable solution to problems related to the safety of both people and assets. First and foremost, there are connectivity bubbles (or “tactical bubbles”) in defense and public security.  

In case of fire, flood or earthquake, satellites can be deployed when terrestrial networks are cut off or saturated. These connectivity bubbles deployed on land support in-situ operations. Using satellites, they restore links with the outside world, beyond the affected area. 

A technological response to contemporary industrial issues 

The same logic is applicable to industrial activities operating in remote areas (offshore wind farms, photovoltaics in the countryside, dams in the mountains…), where terrestrial means of communication are either prohibited or technologically complicated.   

There are also cases where supply chain players are required to monitor mobile assets. Satellites offer a global, continuous and cost-competitive means of tracking assets across a multimodal supply chain (sea, rail, air).  

Critical infrastructure and operations are key areas for using hybrid network technologies. This is especially true with the ramp-up of 5G deployments as a replacement for obsolete Tetra technologies. 

Complex assembly in a divided ecosystem  

The implementation of hybrid networks has led to transformations throughout the telecom value chain. 

Operators and companies will require a thorough understanding of new technical concepts, from a wide range of stakeholders, to ensure end-to-end implementation.  

First of all, they need to understand how networks will be interconnected: what kind of architectures? What are the physical links between network cores? What types of antennas?   

What are the network load shifts between devices and radio equipment (ground relay antennas to space? What direct links from equipment to space? etc.), or how to use 5G’s flagship modules (Network Slicing, MEC, etc.) to fully leverage these hybrid setups?   

Next, we must consider dependencies on the chip and terminal industry: what kind of connectivity roadmap? What functionalities are required for what performance? What degree of sovereignty in networks and equipment supplies?   

Network extension is a major issue for telecom operators, currently unaccustomed to interconnecting their networks with the space industry. There are numerous aspects to be considered (roaming agreements, new network architectures, equipment certification), which need to be managed meticulously to ensure quality services for both private and business clients. Finally, we need to find viable economic and ecological models to ensure virtuous, profitable and beneficial innovation.  

The beginning of history and the importance of experience for a clear understanding 

In this challenging situation, Capgemini and the European Space Agency are collaborating on hybrid networks.  Capgemini’s 5G Lab in Paris and ESA’s 5G/6G Hub in Oxford (UK) have been interconnected via low-orbit satellite networks.  

The current 5G satellite initiative aims to test the technical means and value chain between terrestrial and satellite 5G from 2024. The objective is to highlight the possible uses and operational feasibility of this hybridization.     

The possibilities offered by hybrid networks are enormous, and will be fully unraveled with the maturity of technological solutions, standards and models. The increasing pace and key trends in the market, combined with 5G networks’ maturity, represent a major technological issue which needs to be addressed immediately.  

TelcoInsights is a series of posts about the latest trends and opportunities in the telecommunications industry – powered by a community of global industry experts and thought leaders.

Meet the authors

Patrice Duboé

EVP – CTO Global Aerospace & Defense, CTIO South & Central Europe
Patrice Duboé has been working in innovation and technology for more than 20 years. He leads innovation and technology teams to deploy innovation at scale for global corporations and clients, with key partners and emerging startups.