MediaTek has successfully demonstrated a “5G” data transfer using an Inmarsat Alphasat geostationary satellite, located 35,000 kilometres above the equator.
At the other end of the exchange was a MediaTek base station system located at Italy’s Fucino Space Center. The ground equipment used a platform powered by the Taiwanese fabless manufacturer’s NB-IoT chipset.
MediaTek said the results will contribute to the telco standards bods at 3GPP‘s efforts to steer the development of non-terrestrial networks, which promise to expand connectivity to remote IoT devices. The chip giant also reckons it’ll help open the door to hybrid systems, which can take advantage of both satellite-based and conventional terrestrial cellular networks.
MediaTek isn’t the sole firm competing for the 5G IoT market, nor is it the only vendor aiming to bring long-distance connectivity to the sector. One outfit worthy of note is Ligado Networks, which plans to use terrestrial base stations to send 5G signals over the L-Band spectrum to cover vast swathes of the continental United States.
Ligado Network’s approach differs from the satellite-based technology demonstrated by MediaTek, but it has already managed to clear several regulatory barriers, winning the support of FCC chair Ajit Pai.
Nonetheless, the upstart faced several headwinds, particularly from the defence sector and airline industry, which expressed concerns about potential interference with guidance systems.
There’s also SpaceX’s StarLink project, which aims to blanket the planet with internet connectivity using a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites. While StarLink overlaps somewhat with MediaTek’s new effort, it isn’t actually based on 5G tech, but an entirely separate set of protocols. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that 5G providers end up using Starlink for their back-haul, so Musk’s sat tech might end up somewhere in the middle of that stack. ®
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