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MediaTek and Samsung promotes standards-based phone-to-satellite connectivity

by Wayne Lam | Mar 09, 2023

5G-NTN-Modem-Technology_Non-Terrestrial-Networks_Main-2
Graphics courtesy of Samsung Electronics

 

In a pair of February announcements, MediaTek and Samsung Electronics promoted standards-based 3GPP Release 17 satellite NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) connectivity technology within their mobile chipset offerings. This standards-based approach for satellite connectivity stands in stark contrast to the proprietary solutions both Apple and Qualcomm have implemented with their respective mobile RF designs, software solutions and satellite constellation partners.

MediaTek MT6825 NTN chipset: 

The MT6825 is a discrete 3GPP Release 17 NB-IoT NTN SoC and RF solution intended to serve as a bolt-on solution to existing smartphone designs. The chipset will provide narrowband satellite connectivity using the common L & S-band satellite frequencies at data rates of kilobits-per-second and is targeted at services such as two-way messaging.

Smartphone design wins announced include the Motorola Defy 2 and the CAT S75 smartphones. Bullitt, the manufacturer of both devices, has also announced partnerships with Inmarsat as one of two GEO satellite providers and Skylo as the software and network integrator of phone-to-satellite communication.

Samsung Exynos 5300 reference platform:

Samsung Electronics announced that it has successfully simulated 3GPP standardized NTN communications on their existing Exynos 5300 5G modem platform. This demonstration of 3GPP Release 17 NTN technology ensures that future Exynos modem designs supporting the 3GPP standard will have the prerequisite interoperability and scalability to offer two-way satellite messaging offered by global telecom carriers and device makers. Currently, the Exynos 5300 modem is used within Google’s Pixel 7 series smartphones.

Ramifications

3GPP Release 17 NTN standard establishes a reliable method of satellite NTN communication by accurately predicting the location of satellites to minimize effects of frequency offsets due to Doppler shifts created by the fast-moving satellites in low-earth orbit. This standardized approach allows for industry players such as satellite constellation providers, telecom operators and mobile device manufactures to interoperability and grow the ecosystem of partners and vendors.

Satellite NTN communication will continue to evolve over time to provide services beyond basic messaging.  3GPP Release 17 also outlines the 5G NR NTN connectivity standard which can take advantage of 5G new radio and additional spectral resources to usher in broadband satellite-to-phone services. Improvements in networking protocol and signaling optimization is expected to significantly improve network latency which will enable a larger set of out-of-coverage smartphone use-cases.

New satellite-specific frequency bands (n255 and n256) based on 3GPP standards will be key to bringing new broadband NTN capabilities and use-cases to the market. The adoption of bands n255 and n256 will also have an impact on RF Front End componentry as the industry will likely pivot to support these new 5G bands within future smartphone designs.

Standard protocols and air interfaces established by the 3GPP form the foundation of LTE and 5G. It stands to reason that satellite connectivity would follow suit and conform to similar common standards. However, competitive market decisions to adopt proprietary solutions in the case of Apple and Qualcomm does complicate the satellite NTN landscape.  Further, satellite-direct-to-standard-phone business models promoted by satellite providers such as StarLink, Lynk Global and AST SpaceMobile along with wireless carrier partners will further complicate the market with their solutions.
    

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