Will 3GPP’s Release 18 Be the Catalyst for the Satellite Communications Market?

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3Q 2023 | IN-7007

Satellite Communications (SatCom) services have seen a new wave of enthusiasm and convergence with terrestrial networks looking to extend network coverage and bridge the global digital connectivity gap. This ABI Insight covers the upcoming 3rd Generation Partnership Project’s Release 18, which will cover the evolution from 5G to 5G-Advanced and how this new wave of 5G-Advanced will spur the SatCom market.

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NTN Mobile and Satellite IoT to Continue to Spice up the SatCom Industry


The 3rd Generation Partnership Project’s (3GPP) Release 17 and Release 18 play fundamental roles in accelerating the Satellite Communications (SatCom) market. Key service segments that are projected to take off include broadband, satellite Internet of Things (IoT), and Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) mobile (satellite-to-cell services). These services will experience growth due to more satellite players launching networks in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), alongside an increasing interest in terrestrial and satellite network convergence. The market is expanding rapidly and major players are quickly recognizing its potential. While satellite networks are experiencing rapid changes due to innovations in small satellites and nanosatellites, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) applications, High Throughput Satellites (HTS), and inter-satellite links, terminals on the ground continue to see growth, with Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) SatCom solutions maintaining dominance in the market.

Following the uptick in satellite broadband services from Amazon’s Project Kuiper, SpaceX’s Starlink, and Kacific Broadband, NTN mobile and satellite IoT services are the next development in the NTN space. A major catalyst for this was 3GPP Release 17, which  introduced new network topologies that are based on High-Altitude Platforms (HAPs) and LEO and Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites. Crucially, these laid out the foundation for satellite IoT and NTN mobile as Release 17 extended the cellular IoT protocols, LTE-M and Narrowband (NB)-IoT for satellites. This enabled two new standards for satellite networks, IoT-NTN and New Radio-NTN (NR-NTN). Thus, SatCom with individual mobile devices will close gaps in the terrestrial cellular networks to provide global connectivity. It will target issues like unreachability and service continuity in underserved regions and improve network resilience around the world. On the same tangent, the discussion items upcoming in Release 18 are expected to enhance NTN Mobile and Satellite IoT as key satellite enabled services.  

What Will 3GPP's Release 18 Bring to the SatCom Table?


3GPP considers SatCom under the umbrella term of NTN, referring to all non-terrestrial flying objects, such as HAPs, air-to-ground systems, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Release 17 established the standards for IoT-NTN and NR-NTN. Release 18 will continue with the technological evolution of both these protocols for IoT and satellite-to-mobile broadband connectivity. With regard to NR-NTN, for instance, there are plans to run NR-NTN on Radio Frequency (RF) spectrum above 10 Gigahertz (GHz) to serve the aerospace and maritime industry, alongside businesses and buildings (with building-mounted devices). Release 18 is also expected to include enhancements in satellite backhaul, specifically the dedication of more spectrum for Mobile Satellite Services (MSS), with approximately 80 Megahertz (MHz) of uplink in the L-band and downlink in the S-band. At the same time, improvements targeted toward Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) will be brought about by Release 18 as well, with the consideration of more bands in the Ka frequency bands for downlink (17.7 – 20.2 GHz) and uplink (27.5 – 30 GHz). To support FSS and in accordance with ABI Research’s SatCom Constellations: Deployments & Subscriptions market data (MD-SATCC-102) forecasts, satellite terminals will see a US$16.3 billion market value by 2027, with VSAT terminals contributing US$14.8 billion of the overall market revenue.

Despite concrete details of Release 18 still being in the process of development, 3GPP Release 18 aims to unlock new capabilities toward the evolution of 5G-Advanced and establish new regulatory requirements, along with new bands, while optimizing satellite access performance.

To Prepare for What's to Come, Considerations of Unique and Differentiated Product Offerings Are Necessary


ABI Research forecasts anticipate the market value for worldwide SatCom to be US$94.9 billion by 2027 (MD-SATCC-102). The growth of NTN mobile, in addition to broadband, will drive the market moving forward, with special mention of NTN mobile revenue likely to shoot from 0.2% of the total revenue in 2023 to 8.8% of the overall SatCom revenue by 2027. While the specifics of 3GPP Release 18 are still in development, 3GPP has already established the boundaries of Release 18 that will benefit the SatCom market. Furthermore, with the recent mergers of Eutelsat and OneWeb in 2022 and Viasat and Inmarsat in 2023, in addition to the launch of Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS2), a project endorsed by the European Union (EU) in 2022 to enhance connectivity throughout the EU, more partnerships and agreements are expected to arise ahead of the official launch of 3GPP Release 18 in 2024. ABI Research recognizes that greater value has been placed on the protocols, such as 3GPP Release 18 and beyond, that will develop and nurture the SatCom space.

On a similar tangent, strategic partnerships between terrestrial and NTN operators, solution providers/Communication Service Providers (CSPs), and wireless end-user equipment vendors are currently on the rise and will be critical in expanding the ecosystem and market toward 2027. For instance, MediaTek and Qualcomm have partnered with Inmarsat and Iridium, respectively, to target the NTN mobile market. Meanwhile, AST SpaceMobile has agreements with AT&T, Rakuten Mobile, and several other mobile network operators. Where satellite IoT is concerned, CSPs like Deutsche Telekom have established partnerships with Intelsat and Skylo, whereas Telefónica and Sateliot are working together to trial satellite IoT connectivity. While partnerships are a good indicator of SatCom’s market potential, it is important that operators consider differentiated and unique product offerings for clients. The value proposition that SatCom players can offer their target market will be essential for this process. Some examples might include integrated end-to-end IoT solutions for maritime, offshore connectivity, or end-to-end NTN mobile solutions that marry NTN hardware and software for satellite connectivity. Nonetheless, the creation of new value added services will benefit from 3GPP Release 18, in addition to driving the overall momentum and agenda of the Satellite Communications market.

For additional information on highlights and developments in the SatCom NTN marketplace, please refer to ABI Research’s Highlights & Developments in the SatCom NTN Market (PT-2740) for updated insights and recommendations.



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