Evolution in user terminal design for broadband from space

New LEO satellite networks promise high-speed broadband access for billions living beyond the reach of fibre and cellular networks. But the cost of User Terminals (UTs) for such satellite connections remains far beyond consumer budgets. Andrew Fell sketches how technical innovation, convergence in standards and network intelligence could pave the road to low-cost UTs for broadband from space.

Some examples of this evolution are:

  • Convergence of standards between constellation types and operator, enabling the technology to develop in a similar way to the cellular industry. 3GPP is already studying 5G New Radio support for non-terrestrial networks. This will enhance eco-system leveraging of higher volume chipset supply.
  • Fully integrated chip design for software-defined radio with flexible, integrated digital signal processing, reducing cost and power consumption in the modem.
  • Integration of the full modem functionality into the antenna itself, as opposed to separate modem and antenna head units.
  • Power consumption reductions resulting from chipset integration and protocol optimisations.
  • Smart antennas with multiple beam and/or multi band functionality that can quickly self-align and track the satellite constellation, reducing the significant installation and alignment cost particularly associated with GEO fixed services, or quickly following a LEO satellite as it flies overhead whilst looking for the next satellite in anticipation of hand-over.
  • Integrated smart antennas, phased arrays and steerable antennas improving aesthetics and practicality (for example, flat panels for mounting on trains so they can go through tunnels)
  • Beamformer silicon development; lowering cost, power consumption and improving performance for higher bandwidths.
  • Evolving new techniques in smart electronically steered antennas, where we will likely see some new and interesting patents.
  • Network intelligence used to relieve the User Terminal from terrestrial interference sources, satellite to satellite interference and to keep terminal power consumption to a minimum.
  • Multi-carrier aggregation to provide even higher bandwidth services for enterprise solutions.
  • Network to network coordination, providing traffic routing across constellation types and even operators, to alleviate blockages and optimise traffic routing

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