The most exciting recent innovation in mobile technology is satellite communication. Over the past six months, several smartphone makers, chipset vendors and wireless carriers have announced new developments to link phones to satellites for emergency communications. Now, MediaTek, the largest smartphone chipset vendor by volume, has joined the bandwagon and announced a new chipset to bring that capability to its customer base.
Satellite communications in mobile devices are governed by standards published by 3GPP. In 5G version 17, which was just frozen last fall, the standard describes two forms of satellite communications collectively called non-terrestrial networks, or NTNs. The first form is IoT-NTN, which will provide low data rate (200 KHz) narrowband communications. Not only will this be used to send machine/IoT communications, but it will enable text messaging, like the one advertised by many previous satellite communications announcements. The second form is NR-NTN, which will provide broadband communications (5-20 MHz) for high-speed communications, such as video calls.
Just before Mobile World Congress (MWC), MediaTek announced the MT6825, a low-profile chipset that enables two-way, text-based satellite communication. In accordance with the IoT-NTN standard, the MT6825 supports kilobit data rates on L-band (1-2 GHz) and S-band (2-4 GHz) frequencies with a bandwidth of 200 KHz. For comparison, this bit rate is similar to what you would expect with 2G communications back when the main purpose of a mobile phone was to make phone calls.
The MT6825 is a very small (5.6mm x 5.6mm) integrated chipset that includes an Arm Cortex-M4 processor, 4MB of pseudo-static Flash and RAM, the transceiver and the management of the power and clock. Additional components will also be required for the RF front end from other vendors. The MediaTek MT6825 platform supports the 3GPP Release 17 IoT-NTN open standard. This means that once a device using the MediaTek platform has been certified for the standard, it can be used on any IoT-NTN compliant network.
What is unique about the MediaTek solution is that it will be launched using Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites rather than Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that most other platforms operate today. today. When using MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN solution, aiming will not be required, receiving messages should be as automatic as connecting to a cellular network, and using a proprietary satellite network is not necessary. MediaTek, however, indicated that LEO satellites may be supported in the future.
As announced at CES, the first products to launch with the MediaTek MT6825 chipset will be Motorola’s Defy series of smartphones which will be released this quarter with support for the Bullitt Group’s Bullitt Satellite Connect messaging service.
Even with the limited IoT-NTN data rates, MediaTek expects this service to be used for more than just emergency SOS messages. MediaTek believes it can be used practically for two-way text messaging, weather updates, and location tracking and sharing. MediaTek will be showcasing the platform at MWC Barcelona next week with the promise of satellite video calling, which is impressive.
Further enhancements to the NTN specification will be supported in 3GPP version 18, which is expected to be finalized in 2024. However, the race to support satellite communications has already begun and will continue with new chipsets, new devices, new services and, above all, new satellites to be launched over the next few years. By the end of the decade, Tirias Research estimates that satellite/NTN communications will become another seamlessly integrated link in wireless communications through carrier aggregation, adding to collective capacity and band resources. bandwidth of a given network. Some mobile network operators will partner with satellite operators to offer satellite service, while others will establish their own satellite networks that support NTN standards.
For many, satellite communication is not so attractive, especially if they live in a city with ubiquitous 5G coverage. But satellite communication has the potential to not only provide service in areas that lack reliable cellular coverage, but also enable global infrastructure for industries like transportation that require service anywhere and bridge the divide between regions and consumers by providing ubiquitous broadband. service. Look for more on this topic in my next post.