Written Evidence Submitted by OneWeb

(UKT0014)

 

 

About OneWeb

OneWeb is deploying the first satellite communication network with 5G features capable to deliver fibre-like connectivity to people around the world, especially in rural and hard to reach areas, powered by a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites.

On March 21st OneWeb launched the second batch of 34 satellite in six weeks, an achievement made possible by the pace and execution of OneWeb Satellites’ unique high-volume production factory. This launch brings the total number of satellites in the constellation to 74, further solidifying OneWeb’s position as a leading global communications company, with the objective to begin service in 2021.

 

Reason for submitting evidence

5G ready, at low latency and providing global coverage, OneWeb will be the first telecommunication operator to bring high speed internet everywhere. Its communications network will offer game-changing Mobility solutions to industries that rely on global connectivity, such as Aviation, Maritime, Automotive and create solutions for Broadband, Government and Cellular Backhaul.

Deploying a 5G Ready Global Core network establishing an architecture which will enable a plug and play model for integration of the satellite system with terrestrial (5G) networks, OneWeb is uniquely positioned to provide a unique perspective on how telecommunications domestic capability can be built in the UK.

Intro to the evidence

The process that led to the current lack of market competition and capabilities as manufacturers of network elements took place over a period longer than 20 years, starting in the late 90’s. In early 2000’s, after numerous transformations and deals, Marconi was no longer the company it had once been. The main focus was now on fiber-optic networks and Marconi was suffering from expensive acquisitions at the height of the "dot-com" boom. When in October 2005, this signed one of the key moments of the end of UK technological interdependence in the telecommunication sector.

The primary factors of this “involution can be primarily traced back to the absence of a national strategy and roadmap for telecommunications, which reflected in prioritising and focusing investments in services and applications, to the disadvantage of enabling technologies.

This was also reflected by the approach of looking at mobile systems primarily as opportunity to monetize from spectrum auction. In 2000, the 3G spectrum was auctioned for £22.5B; this had the ripple effect to dry the R&D investment by mobile operators forcing them to focus on selling services rather than on innovation and technology.

The lack of investment in Research & Development translated in a lack of encouragement from the Government for mobile network operators to develop enabling technologies in the UK, with UK industry especially technology SMEs.

Over the time even big equipment vendors left the UK due to lack of national strategy to invest in Telecommunications. Examples of these companies are: Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia which either left the UK or replace their R&D activities with business units tasked with selling equipment to the UK market where most of R&D was done in their HQ countries and outside the UK.

Huawei has been the only large equipment vendor that has invested in R&D in the UK. To get a feeling about required investment in R&D alone: Huawei invested more than USD$4B, Ericson less than $2B and Nokia even less, around $1B. This reflected in readiness and quality of their 5G products.

There are no unsurmountable barriers to enter the UK telecommunications market besides the challenge of recovering from the “market failure” as identified by the inquiry of this Committee. The main barrier to invest in the UK R&D is lack of co-investment and encouragement policy from the Government.

On a positive note, once the Government announced investment in 5G, there are encouraging examples that fostered R&D cooperation and investment in the UK. Initiatives similar to the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), at the University of Surrey, inaugurated in September 2015 for the development of the first worldwide 5G network, collected over £40m support from international telecommunications companies and a further £11.6m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

It is still possible for the Government to support the establishment and growth of a UK-based 5G; and while international collaborations and partnerships are an attractive option to build domestic capability, in doing so, it is important to consider constraints on IPR, mainly owned by big equipment vendors. However, the UK can contribute to future releases of 5G and should adopt a forward-looking perspective considering 6G in 2030 and beyond.

There are no major equipment vendors in Five Eye countries which would have IPR to develop products. In the US, Qualcom and InterDigital have some IPR but there is a question mark on capacity to develop the entire products at large scale.

It is challenging to compete in short term with Huawei, as Ericsson and Nokia have found out. Huawei has more than 10,000 highly qualified wireless engineers. Hence the UK and Five Eyes need to focus on some specific strategic areas such as the development of the 5G core network, rather than the entire product chain. The Surrey 5G Innovation Centre has shown that such capability do exists in the UK.

Measures the UK Government could take to encourage additional, established vendors to enter the UK market could include mechanisms for which vendors willing to sell to the UK market should have reasonable R&D activities and IPR development in the UK and incentive schemes to encourage the SME base to establish ecosystem of products that can be purchased by Network operators and service providers.

 

The role of satellites in the 5G future

As we are on the verge of witnessing what a truly connected world is, it is projected that soon there will be 30 billion devices and 50 billion machines online. That is essentially everyone and everything connected, across every geography, supporting any application and use case.

Supporting a connected world is challenge that the existing telecom infrastructure is not equipped to manage. Such a demand drives the development of the new 5G network architecture and standard, which promises super-fast broadband, flexibility, scalability, and will enable low-latency applications for Machine to Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT).

5G is also redefining a universal network architecture to which all access technologies can follow. As such, 5G will revolutionise how satellites are integrated into the telecommunication network, enabling seamless end-to-end interoperability between the space infrastructure and the 5G network.

5G provides the perfect opportunity for terrestrial operators to leverage satellite connectivity and expand their coverage areas offloading their networks through critical functionalities like multicasting, backhauling, and mobility access where satellite provide better access.

Satellite constellations are uniquely positioned to provide ubiquitous services and complement mobile network operators5G services offloading their terrestrial networks with satellite connectivity.

With 5G, the satellite network will be developed to interoperate within a 5G architecture, offering functionalities for new use cases, such as connected cars, emergency services, dispersed manufacturing plants and remote sensors for IoT applications, while preserving high-value spectrum for low-latency- services.

Although 5G roll out is happening in urban areas, complete coverage will only be possible via the inclusion of non-terrestrial networks and, in particular, LEO satellite constellations.

The inclusion of the 5G ecosystem is key to the success of these new markets. The fundamental expertise and skills in 5G and small satellites resides in the UK and developing integrated systems represents an opportunity to leverage these into new business creation for such systems in 2020-30. The pathway to full 5G coverage and the realization of its real wealth creation is via satellite extension. Thanks to satellite constellations, like OneWeb, the UK has the exceptional opportunity of recovering an important part of the infrastructural and technological gap by harnessing the world leading expertise in 5G technology and the small satellites constellations to demonstrate extended roll out via low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, complementing the terrestrial 5G system and provide 100% coverage through seamless transition between the two and from a user point of view enjoying ubiquitous 5G services irrespective of geography.

5G will bring many new capabilities compared to previous generations of mobile networks. As well as providing higher throughputs, 5G will enable newer types of applications and services in the domains of health, transport, entertainment, machine-to-machine communications, and security, to name just a few. And Satellite communications will be an essential part of this 5G infrastructure. The satellite transport conduit will be integrated into the overall available communication map. Service providers will need to provide seamless connectivity between terrestrial and satellite. Traffic will be dynamically steered to the best transport options available according to bandwidth, latency, network conditions and other application-specific requirements. Several key changes introduced by 5G provide the scenario of using the service through satellite backhaul.

Network slicing

The physical and protocol layers in 5G need a flexible design to support the different use cases, vertical segments, and different frequency bands, and to maximize energy and spectral efficiency. Network slicing will create virtual network segments for the different use cases or customer types within the same 5G network. The 5G core network is designed to support numerous slices for each end-user device. The end-to-end solution for network slicing can then use satellite as a backhaul for certain slices, for example:

Multi-connectivity

5G can be deployed as a standalone system but in the early stages will more typically be deployed with LTE. The 5G device can be connected simultaneously to both 5G and LTE, offering a higher user data rate and a more reliable connection.  In the case with Satellite as a backhaul solution this combination is likely to rely on local breakout and MEC for its realisation.

In-built support for cloud implementation and edge computing

The current architecture in LTE networks is fully distributed in the radio and fully centralized in the core network. The demand for low latency in 5G requires the content to be brought closer to the radio, which necessitates local break out and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). This is particularly important where backhaul is either too costly or in limited supply. The required scalability means bringing the benefits of the cloud to radio networks, using both edge cloud and local cloud architecture. 5G radio and core is also designed for native cloud implementation, including new interfaces inside the radio network.  With the advancement on cloud computing and the cost reductions seen in the x86 server space, delivering small cloud solutions locally, supporting multiple tenants, transforms the landscape and offers the ability to deliver small communication & IT hubs to discrete uses with Network & IT in a box type of approach.  This could be particularly useful in remote communities providing for local innovation and entrepreneurial activity.

The solutions will use standards based 5G networks and each use case will be developed in a plug and play fashion where different 5G radio, 5G Core and satellite links could ultimately be used. This is done to ensure compatibility with the widest range of 5G systems including other 5G satellite systems.

 

Standards

The rollout of a new standard from 2G to 3G, or 3G to 4G/LTE, is a process that spreads over several years with 4G adoption still ongoing. For 5G, it is expected we will see progressive adoption at various rates depending on the service and use. However, considering 4G is still a mirage not only in developing countries, but in rural areas of G7 countries, it will take years before we see significant 5G coverage at a global scale.

The 5G roll-out will start form high-tech countries such as the United States, parts of Europe, South Korea, China, Japan and India. Still 4G will not disappear and it will continue to play a key role in the network, particularly for less bandwidth-heavy and more latency-tolerant use cases. Telecom network operator are likely to rely on 5G for some applications that depend on 5G characteristics, such as autonomous vehicles and more specifically self-driving cars, while continuing to use 4G for other services.

As a result, operators need to plan for both 4G now and 5G tomorrow, to coexist and share the same network resources for the foreseeable future.

 

5G applications and satellite roles

The advanced communications of 5G are expected to transform three major use cases, in each of which satellite constellations play a vital role:

Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)

Ultra-Reliable and Low-Latency Communications (URLLC)

5G network will introduce unseen speed connectivity and smart routing, thus enabling low-latency application such as autonomous vessels in the maritime domain and autonomous cars in urban areas. With 5G, connectivity is established at the edge, and the same base station is used to connect the vehicle and the local sensors.

While satellite connectivity, will not support such latency sensitive applications, it will complement the terrestrial service through traffic offloading allowing Overt The Top (OTT) media services and reducing the congestion of the base station.

Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC)

In the world where everything is connected anywhere at any time, the 5G Software Defined Network (SDN) functionalities will play a pivotal role for Machine to Machine (MTM) and Internet of Things (IoT) services. While small in nature, the aggregated volume of these devices will have a major impact on the network load.

Satellites, and LEO constellations in particular, offer the opportunity for backhauling non-latency sensitive data from these devices, offloading the 5G terrestrial network.

Resilience of the space network

Satellite constellation telecommunication network, like OneWeb, and all its components are built with resilience of service in mind. Resilience is achieved in multiple ways: via redundant components in each segment, a flexible space network, and a flexible architecture that accommodates rapid changes.

The architecture of the entire system, including the planning portion, offers the flexibility that enables to reconfigure the system in the event of an unforeseen event or attack. This includes the reconfiguration of the core network components as well as the peripheral elements that the core network communicates with (like the 5G eNodeB in the Satellite Network Portal).

To safeguard its network, systems and data, constellation like OneWeb have chosen to adopt an ISO27001 approach to its Information Security Management System (ISMS). The ISMS ensures effective defense, detection and response alongside a Security Command Center, which is operationally maintained 24x7x365 with the responsibility for monitoring internal and external cyber threats.

 

Suggested action plan

Satellite 5G research and development activities carry substantial costs, the financial burden of which cannot be easily covered by industry alone, especially if SME’s. As such, a form of financial support essential to fund activities needed to deliver UK centric capability on satellite-5G integration. It will also attract investment from multi-national corporations to the UK.

Government funding allows the delivery partners to open-up the test network infrastructure to other actors in the UK ecosystem. Additional value will be created raising awareness of 5G and satellites via a high-profile roll-out and demonstrations building synergies between MNO’s and Satellite Network Operators towards an integrated solution that provides 100% 5G coverage.

In the 5G era, a central boost will help to realise the full potential of 5G as key to supporting the digital transformation of industry and act as a catalyst for the development of the upstream and downstream building-blocks. The fundamental 5G technologies that shall be targeted include:

Conclusions

The Government can play a central role in stimulating the much-needed technological recovery through the phases of road-mapping, development, piloting and industrialization of the 5G infrastructure.

In a new interconnected world where “data is the new gold and connectivity the new electricity, the convergence of terrestrial cellular and satellite networks is mandatory. As standard guarantees multi-technology compatibility, satellites are needed to provide ubiquitous coverage and complement the terrestrial network.

In the context of deploying a new infrastructure for integrated space and terrestrial mobile networks, LEO constellations are uniquely positioned to provide the platform for an economy of space communications capable of supporting 5G access and key 5G use cases, enabling content delivery for Edge Computing, Network Slicing, Software Defined Networks and  Emergency Services with Cell on Wheels.

Satellite constellationslike OneWeb, which also enjoys priority of the frequency rights on a global scale – offer the exceptional opportunity to act as catalyst of such a virtuous circle and bring back to the UK space sector unmatched industrial and technological capabilities.[1]

Furthermore, a scenario in which the manufacturing of OneWeb satellites is executed in the UK will introduce a tremendous stimulus into the UK hardware supply chain and will provide an overall positive impulse to the 5G hardware ecosystem (this approach is currently being executed as OneWeb is actively partnering with North East UK 5G cluster companies and with the Norfolk 5G test programme).

Not to be forgotten, satellite constellations also represent a flexible ready-to-use infrastructure to deliver Position Navigation Timing (PNT) services, hence developing sovereign capability and independence from international systems like Galileo.

 

 

(31 May 2020)

www.oneweb.world

 

 


[1] If 5% of the global revenue can be captured for satellite and 10% for the UK space industry (as per the Space Growth Action Plan) this represents an annual market of £1.2 to £2.4bn for UK companies.