The role of satellites in 5G to close the Digital Divide

18 September 2020

Donna Bethea Murphy, SVP Regulatory, Inmarsat

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Recently, Inmarsat delivered a webinar training course on The Role of Satellite Communications as a Key Enabler of the 5G Ecosystem, in collaboration with the United States Telecommunication Training Institute (USTTI).

We’re proud to be part of USTTI which is a public-private, non-profit partnership dedicated to sharing knowledge about telecommunications technology, law, and policy with government officials from developing countries around the world.  The USTTI is led by a Board of Directors that includes senior leadership from the US Department of State, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and leading companies from the telecommunications and technology sectors.

Our training session focused on 5G technologies and policies and attracted more than 170 participants from ministries, regulatory authorities and other government bodies in developing countries around the world.

Network of networks

Attendees heard about the unique capabilities of satellite systems and what makes them an integral component in the future 5G network of networks, delivering ubiquitous, robust connectivity across a range of devices and solutions.

Discussions also touched upon the current state of play in 5G standards development and work already underway by leading organizations, such as 3GPP and ITU-T, which are studying how satellite technologies can be integrated into the 5G system.

Already at Inmarsat, our satellite communications systems are enabling Internet of Things (IoT) applications such as agricultural monitoring systems and railway telemetry solutions in remote locations where terrestrial connectivity does not reach. These case studies illustrated for attendees some of the ways that satellite systems could be put to use for the benefit of the citizens of their countries.

In addition, terrestrial 5G networks are likely to be deployed in fewer areas than previous generations of terrestrial mobile networks (as was generally the case with 4G and 3G before it), due to mobile operators’ focus on deploying dense networks in highly-populated and well-resourced regions. Satellite connectivity will therefore be essential to ensuring that the benefits of 5G are enjoyed broadly around the world in order to help close, not further increase, the digital divide.

Regulatory policy recommendations

The sessions concluded with a set of recommendations for regulators and ministry staff who attended the webinar. These included:

  • Promote the 5G vision through technology neutral policymaking. Policies, pilot programs, research grants, working groups, and multi-stakeholder initiatives related to 5G and IoT should be technology neutral and inclusive of all connectivity technologies to the greatest extent possible, so as not to predetermine the outcomes.
  • A more neutral deployment of Universal Access funds, including to technologies such as satellites.
  • Streamline regulatory processes and promote cost-efficiency. The lack of connectivity is often related to cost factors. Therefore policymakers could take steps to reduce costs by adopting blanket licensing/general authorization approaches to satellite terminals, reducing regulatory barriers to innovative services like Earth Stations in Motion (ESIMs), and reducing spectrum fees.
  • Satellite spectrum must be protected. Regulators should not equate 5G with commercial mobile broadband networks, as the two are not the same. Policy decisions to repurpose satellite spectrum, or impose technical or operational restrictions on its use, in order to benefit terrestrial mobile networks, may actually reduce the availability and scope of 5G services. To prevent 5G from being available only for limited uses, satellite systems require continued access to interference-protected spectrum.

About the author

Donna Bethea Murphy is Senior Vice President of Global Regulatory Policy for Inmarsat. In this capacity she leads the company’s domestic and international regulatory policy activities. Donna serves in the government appointed position of Committee Member to the United States National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC). She is the Chair of the United States International Telecommunications Union Association (USITUA) Board and serves as Focal Point to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.  She is a Board Member of the United Telecommunication Training Institute and Advisor to the ITSO-American University’s WCL Program on Internal Communications Regulation.

Donna holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University.