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Mobile operators have used GEO satellite connectivity for years to backhaul traffic from cell sites in remote or rural areas without fiber or have low bandwidth needs.

This changed when SES’s O3b constellation was launched back in 2013. Today, the throughput and low latency of SES’s medium earth orbit (MEO) constellation is used by mobile operators around the world to provide 4G LTE connectivity.

Recently SES completed multiple field tests and technical demonstrations with a major mobile operator and cloud provider in the U.S. to showcase some of these new 5G possibilities.

SES set up the equipment at the test locations at the mobile operator’s facilities in Texas and worked closely with its engineering teams to ensure all the test cases and metrics were captured. Tests over an SES O3b MEO satellite included both 4G and 5G voice and data scenarios to measure quality, stress test load capacity and evaluate performance.

The week-long tests validated SES’s ability to deliver fiber-like performance for mobile operators and came back with some unprecedented results:

  • 10,000 simultaneous calls were maintained over a 10-hour period over a single MEO satellite link
  • Fiber-quality video latency and an impressive mean opinion score – a common industry measurement of voice quality – of 4.23 out of 5
  • MEO test configuration delivered 900 Mbps aggregate throughput

To really test the link, the mobile operator and SES even initiated the industry’s first 5G video call over satellite by connecting a 5G handset to a 5G Ultra Wideband eFEMTO at each location. The engineers waved their arms and jumped up and down while talking without any perceived lag or delay, validating the low latency of the connection.

The shift to 5G is also opening up a new opportunity for private networks that offer more secure wireless communications with low-latency and high-bandwidth for a variety of enterprise, industrial, transportation and other applications.

To demonstrate that option, SES recently worked with a major U.S.-based cloud provider to demonstrate how easy it is to set up a satellite-enabled private network using a cloud-hosted 5G core. For the demo, a 5G smartphone was connected to a private network set up in an office building outside of Seattle. That network was connected to a 5G core hosted in a public cloud facility in Ashburn, Virginia, through an SES Cloud Direct connection over SES’s MEO network.

Underscoring the power and simplicity of a cloud-hosted 5G core, the entire demo was set-up and run by a single person (who is not an engineer!). Using off-the-shelf equipment, software modules in the cloud and our low-latency MEO connectivity, the demo achieved around 100 milliseconds of latency between the locations.

While a proof of concept, the demo highlights how enterprise customers or smaller operators can capitalise on the private network market opportunity using low-cost equipment and the public cloud to create a solution that is right for their organisation and can scale with demand.

As mobile operators around the world look for new ways to extend their networks to open new markets and attract new customers – whether consumers with 5G devices or enterprises deploying private networks – these tests help underscore the critical role MEO satellites are playing in global communications.

The upcoming launch of SES’s next-generation O3b mPOWER system has never been timelier. The flexible and scalable MEO constellation will be able to extend and enhance operators’ networks and backhaul traffic from the edge to the core. More importantly, O3b mPOWER will bring a reduced footprint of physical equipment, much faster deployment times, and zero touch provisioning to automate service delivery – especially critical for high-value 5G applications and use cases.

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