Satellite connectivity is emerging as a technological innovation poised to move towards mass-market applications, but deploying satellite networks requires complex testing, design and optimization.
TTP, a leading independent tech and product development company, announced on Tuesday a new digital twin technology designed to streamline the deployment of 5G non-terrestrial networks. This digital twin allows companies, providers and organizations to virtually test and maximize systems end-to-end.
TechRepublic met with Pascal Herczog, a consultant at TTP, to understand the enterprise implications of this news, dive into the latest technology and gain insight for business leaders on the next era of satellite connectivity.
How digital twins can streamline deployment
From user equipment and antenna design to satellite links, ground networks, core networks capacities, latency and data rates, NTNs are sophisticated networks that require several components in perfect sync to operate.
“Digital twin technologies allow you to simulate every part of the system,” Herczog said. “It’s important to get that data before product launch, including every part of that ecosystem.”
TTP’s digital twin can be configured to align with customer requirements. For example, how operators would like to configure their satellites in space, frequencies that will be used, interference measurements, bottleneck evaluations and more.
“Because it’s end-to-end, it gives a very realistic simulation of the entire system,” Herczog explained.
Once the system is uploaded virtually into the digital twin, developers and engineers can fine-tune it to maximize performance. The use cases for satellite connectivity are widespread and include simple services like basic voice or low data rate messaging to more advanced cases like connected mobility.
“It’s all about coverage,” Herczog added. “That means that you need to understand not just where the beam from a satellite is, but what that means in terms of finding patterns. As you look at different terrain models, you get a much better view of the achievable coverage for given areas and different situations.”
TTP’s new technology can also take the digital twin system beyond virtuality using what is known as hardware-in-the-loop. With this approach, businesses can create an end-to-end simulation of the network and add real hardware into the system to measure the performance of the real product.
“You could run a voice call and measure latency or throughput and quality,” Herczog said. “That’s really important for operators to understand their satellite services and compare them with the services they use.”
TTP integrated its proprietary lab testing tools with Keysight’s PropSim Channel emulator and EXata network modeling suite, in addition to the physics-based modeling environment Ansys STK. The solution is designed for satellite operators, device manufacturers, app developers, mobile network operators and network infrastructure providers to establish how their products and services will interoperate with NTN networks.
TTP will demonstrate the digital twin and lab emulation platform at Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona.
Why satellite connectivity? The market, tech and trends driving growth
The Allied Market Research report Satellite Communication System Market, published in December 2022, reveals a growing market that is expected to reach $61.5 billion globally by 2031 at 9.5% CAGR.
Driven by increased accessibility to space, satellites’ ability to provide communication services to remote and underserved areas, increasing demand for global connectivity and growing adoption of IoT devices, satellite communication systems are thriving.
End-user industries for the satellite market include civilian communication providers, maritime, aerospace and defense, industrial, government, transportation and logistics. Some leading companies in satellite communications are Iridium Communications, KVH Industries, L3Harris Technologies, Orbcomm, Thales Group, ViaSat and SpaceX.
“We realize that there are large areas of the world that are not covered by networks, and very large numbers of people, perhaps billions, are not able to get good connectivity on cellular networks,” Herczog said. “There are also other situations where cellular connectivity is limited — for example, in the face of natural disasters or other emergencies.”
Herczog explained that providers have found it too costly to provide coverage everywhere with ground base stations.
“Satellite gives them an ideal opportunity to extend their networks’ coverage,” he said. “People will expect connections everywhere. That will quickly scale the number of use cases that will take advantage of that connectivity.”
The fourth industrial revolution — affecting every sector, from agriculture to manufacturing to automotive — is leveraging automation, AI, IoT and data-driven edge-cloud platforms. Connectivity is the backbone of the movement, and yet industries often operate in areas without coverage, cross international borders, navigate open seas and work in remote and rural areas.
Benefits of using digital twin simulations
Herczog explained that as the number of satellites increases, mobile providers’ interest in understanding satellite capabilities and how they might connect to their existing systems will grow.
TTP digital twin simulation capabilities include all the components representing the core network, the base stations and handsets devices. With the simulation, TTP can configure networks that are composed of satellite and terrestrial components.
“The advantage of digital twins is that you can do all the testing before you launch your product,” Herczog added. “Time-to-market is split into two parts. One gives greater upfront insight into design optimizations, but the bigger benefit is the work done before the product’s launch.”
Companies that deploy 5G networks that are not optimized risk losing capital, resources and time. They will also have to make the necessary changes to achieve operational capacity. The bottom line? Rushing deployment can threaten viable business models.
Network providers, IoT device manufacturers and handset devices are also trending toward providing satellite-capable hardware.
“There’s going to be a significant benefit in economies of scale,” Herczog said.
He explained that as new technologies are developed and become more accessible, the cost of satellite connectivity can be expected to be not substantially different from terrestrial networks.
Business leaders should keep an eye on hardware evolution, data traffic capacity improvements, technologies that link satellites with terrestrial networks and standardization and roadmaps. Digital twin simulations can be used to design, test, optimize, deploy, maintain and operate NTT networks.
TTP works with established and new space satellite operators, telcos, and network and handset vendors. The company’s main goal is to support overcoming satellite connectivity deployment challenges, help organizations commercialize NTNs and understand future use cases for the technology.
Read next: Qualcomm announces Snapdragon X75, the first 5G Advanced-ready modem-RF system (TechRepublic)
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