Ottawa’s Square Peg Communications to Help ESA With 5G Over Satellite

5G in space. Image Credit: ESA.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen Ottawa-based Square Peg Communications to assist them with developing satellite-based 5G communications.

The project aims to “implement an emulation environment that reliably tests a variety of scenarios across multiple constellations as part of its Space for 5G and 6G Strategic Programme Line.” The project will have funding from the ESA, though exact amounts were not stated by either party. It should be noted that companies like Square Peg Communications have access to programs like this one through Canada’s ongoing cooperative agreement with ESA. The Space for 5G initiative falls under the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program.

Square Peg Communications is a communications technology company focused principally on satellite communications. They provide a wide variety of terrestrial equipment and support focused on the sector, focused on base station hardware, Inmarsat BGAN subsystems, and especially satellite communications testing equipment, which is the focus of the ESA project. 

Specifically, Square Peg will be providing its RLS-2100 testing platform for use by the ESA. The RLS-2100 is a hardware platform that, according to Square Peg’s demo sheet, replicates various impairments that satellite operators will face across a wide variety of potential scenarios. By connecting communications inputs and outputs to the device, and selecting characteristics of the simulated network—including RF characteristics of the uplinks and satellites, satellite network topology, and potential doppler and delay effects—they can then test its resilience to various problems that are likely to come up. This can include path loss, path delay, interference, phase noise, signal fading, signal blockages and shadowing, antenna gain issues, and a wide variety of atmospheric effects, among others.

The RLS-2100 can replicate many of the issues that are likely to come into play with Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) networks, according to Square Peg’s materials on LEO and the RLS-2100. Doppler frequency shifts are likely as the satellites are moving comparatively quickly, signal handovers are necessary as satellites move out of range, and specific satellite payloads are likely to change over time as LEO constellations tend to evolve comparatively quickly. Organizations can test for these kinds of problems without the delay and expense of actually doing it in orbit. 

Square Peg said that the RLS-2100 was developed thanks to a “team up” with European technology company WORK Microwave, which has supplied technology needed to interface with equipment across various satellite bands. They also gave credit to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who provided $720,000 to Square Peg in 2019 to develop the testing hardware as part of the CSA’s Space Technology Development Program.

Meanwhile, the project reflects ESA’s ongoing interest in space-based 5G communications. 5G is generally associated with handheld smartphones and other personal devices, and satellite-based smartphone telephony is still very much in its infancy. But there are other possibilities for how satellites could play a role; LEO satellites could connect to cellular nodes in remote locations, which could then be used as connection points by local devices, or be used with larger communication devices on ships, planes, or other vehicles.  

In turn, LEO satellite networks could also become part of communications between cell nodes, providing a useful link between points in the network that would be difficult to connect via either geosynchronous (GEO) satellites or land/sea connections. In their materials on their 5G-over-satellite programme, they cite “ubiquitous coverage,” “network resilience” and “seamless connectivity” as key goals, all of which could be aided by the integration of LEO satellite constellations, particularly in concert with existing GEO satellite communications.

ESA has said that this is a key priority. In the 2019 Joint Statement on Satellite for 5G, ESA and a number of industry leaders (including but not limited to Airbus, Inmarsat, Thales Alenia Space, and SES) said that 5G over satellite networks “provide important benefits when integrated in the overall 5G system, owing to [their] intrinsic advantages including universal coverage, multicasting, and broadcasting capability.”  

They also said that using satellites as part of 5G networks can support new kinds of applications and business models “within multiple verticals”: including in transport, media, public safety, agriculture, and manufacturing among others.

Before any of that is implemented, however, it needs to be rigorously tested, and being able to do that in labs on the ground could result in fewer expensive on-orbit problems and a much lower overall cost to the ESA. Hence this announcement, which could result in serious savings of both cost, effort, and equipment for all involved.

Stefano Cioni, ESA’s Technical Officer on the project, said that “we are pleased to see Square Peg and WORK Microwave delivering first-class technology in the frame of ESA’s strategic programme line Space for 5G & 6G”. “This team has met the technical requirements,” he added, “and we believe that the  RLS-2100 will foster 5G NTN experimentations in realistic laboratory environments.”

Matthias Stangl, VP of RF Products at WORK Microwave, said that WORK was “excited to work in partnership with Square Peg to develop a strong technology solution”, namely the RLS-2100, “one with a potentially massive market opportunity ahead.” 

Meanwhile, Michael Gertsman, President of Square Peg, said that “we are proud to evolve with the industry as we support today’s space innovators,” noting that “they need reliable and responsive technology solutions that empower advancements in satellite communications.” He said that “testing has always been an important factor in successful innovation,” and that “in response to massive growth in the sector, we’re seeing it being implemented in broader and more integrated ways than ever before.” 

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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