Fifth Generation (5G) wireless technology promises to deliver performance upgrades across the entire telecommunications industry. The purpose of the 5G network is to deliver faster speed and sustain a highly concentrated number of devices. This new infrastructure will transform the entire telecom industry.

Despite its transformative capacity, 5G and existing communication systems, such as satellite technology, should be thought of as complementary rather than competing technologies. Technical developments within the underlying 5G architecture bring new capacity to communicate and transmit information. These advancements will drive new opportunities for the satellite industry.

Technological enhancements

Officially, 5G is a radio access technology governed by the 5G New Radio (5G NR) air interface. Major technical aspects for the 5G NR protocols and standards are governed and developed by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) organization.

While the existing 4G LTE network revolutionized mobile connections to the internet, the 5G standard includes several technological enhancements to face new and evolving challenges of internet communications.

  • Virtualization and automation
    • One of the core aspects of the 5G architecture is an emphasis on virtualization and utilizing software to automatically route traffic. Software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are two aspects of network management that are being utilized with 5G.
    • Virtual networks are a computing concept that optimizes server performance by combining hardware and software components and resources. For instance, 5G supports cutting-edge developments, such as network slicing, to host several virtual networks on a centralized physical network.
    • More efficient and cost-effective performance is the result of virtualization and automated networking.


  • Updated channel bandwidths
    • The 5G network utilizes higher frequency channels, known as the millimeter wave spectrum, or mmWave, to optimize network speed and reduce latency. The millimeter wave spectrum specifically refers to frequencies between 30 and 300 GHz, compared to the existing 4G network that operates on a frequency range below 6 GHz.
    • While technically 5G will still operate in the low-band spectrum, the shift towards the mmWave spectrum marks a significant change for consumer devices. Internationally, 5G is also being developed for mid-range bands that are predominantly used reserved for specialized communications, including military or industrial satellite networks in the United States.


  • Faster speeds
    • How much faster will 5G actually be than 4G? The minimum peak download speed for 5G is 20 Gbps compared to 1 Gbps for 4G. While achieving these theoretical network speeds will face practical limitations imposed by carriers, the fact is that 5G should typically deliver at least 5-10 times greater data transfer speeds than the current infrastructure.
    • Despite the allure of faster transmission speeds, a downside of higher frequencies is that signals can cover less distance than 4G and existing communications infrastructure. To account for this and preserve faster speeds, 5G providers are working to install a greater number of low-power stations across a wider geographic ride.

Driving transformation

The current 5G implementation process is ongoing, but in its early stages. Major mobile carriers already are rolling out the 5G network, although there will be a gradual transition from the 4G LTE. With the early stages of implementation of 5G beginning in 2019 and 2020, there will be several opportunities for transformation over the next decade.

The 3GPP organization espouses the “market potential for an integrated satellite and terrestrial network infrastructure in the context of 5G“. Communications involving transportation industries (railway, maritime, aeronautical) are some potential frontiers where a balanced approach may provide value.

There are more potential consequences for the satellite industry as 5G expands.


  • Satellite coverage expansion
    • As discussed previously, one of the concerns and major challenges of 5G bandwidth is overcoming lower signal strength. While providers can simply install more stations in major metropolitan areas, this is not always a feasible option in rural locations. Satellite technology is equipped to help bring 5G capabilities to remote areas where the existing fiber optics infrastructure is not present.
    • Sparsely populated areas across the globe that lack even basic broadband and mobile services could gain access to 5G networks assisted by satellite. This would be a major achievement for operations, including establishing emergency communications in these regions.
    • The European Space Agency even unveiled the Satellite for 5G Initiative to promote and advance the role of satellite technology can play for applications not suitable for a standalone 5G network.


  • More frequent satellite launches
    • As of March 2019, 2062 operational satellites orbited Earth, and more than 58% of U.S. satellites were used for commercial purposes. This number will continue to grow as more satellites are set to launch in the near future as part of the rollout of the 5G network.
    • Launches are categorized into constellations including Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO). In particular, LEO and MEO non-terrestrial systems will deliver universal coverage that also meet 5G latency requirements.


  • IoT Support
    • One of the most ambitious goals of 5G is to support the expansion of devices comprising the Internet of Things (IoT). By 2020, Gartner estimates 20.4 billion devices will be connected to the IoT, and each device will need to connect wirelessly to receive and transmit data. Due to the advancements in band frequency, more devices will be able to transmit data without causing performance issues.
    • Driverless cars and autonomous vehicles are a related technological category that stand to benefit from 5G, as the demand for an interconnected transportation system rises. Maintaining fast software downloads such as GPS mapping routes will be critical for a system of connected cars.

Learn more about satellite and 5G

To recap, the telecom industry is still in the early stages of building the 5G infrastructure, and this will continue to remain a major project. Satellite communication will remain relevant because the 5G infrastructure will take several years to develop.

The satellite conduit is an integral part of the 5G model. Thus, a seamless transition between satellite and terrestrial networks is likely to continue.

To learn more about the development of 5G technology and the impacts on satellite communications, contact X2nSat today.

About the Author

Cara is the marketing coordinator at X2nSat. She's a social media maverick, a content genius, and an author in her spare time. Writing and marketing are her true passions.