NTN Use Cases for Programmable Silicon

Non-terrestrial networks (NTN) have opened up a host of services and applications that have unable to be addressed using cellular service. For instance, oil rigs in the middle of the ocean need constant care to identify potential issues and are too far from land to use cellular. Or sensors on devices to track shipments across rural areas. Or military operations who often work in remote areas with little to no interaction with the outside world.

Because cellular is only available in about 15% of the world’s total area, there are many untapped use cases that would benefit from NTN. These become the low-hanging fruit of the NTN space. Yet, the potential is endless.

Technical reports on 5G NTN, using information from contributors to the 3GPP specifications, have outlined several use cases that are compelling for the market and its growth. The fact that there have been so many use cases already identified across multiple industries bodes well for adoption rates and market sustainability.

Before we jump to discussing those use cases, check out our first blog in this series, “5G NTN is Here – What are the challenges?” in which we shared an overview of the NTN market and its challenges. Now we address the use cases for programmable silicon that will support the growth and prevalence of NTN.

NTN Use Cases

Initially, there were three categories of NTN use cases, developed by the3GPP working group:

  • Service continuity: Terrestrial (or cellular) service is not available in vast parts of the world (85%, to be more specific). Continuity refers to providing continuous coverage so that the end users experience remains the same regardless of where they travel in the world.
  • Service ubiquity: This typically refers to the areas or instances that impact network outages. For instance, in parts of the world where earthquakes are a regular occurrence, the infrastructure often shifts, causing power and connectivity to be lost. NTN will help in instances of public safety and IoT. 
  • Service scalability: Scalability refers to the area of coverage. For instance, cellular coverage or traditional broadcasting is limited by the distance that it can cover. That is not the case with NTN in that it can provide long-range coverage. This opens up opportunities for groups and communities where connectivity was not previously available.

The ETSI 3GPP Technical Report for Release 17 indicated that its efforts will support NTN use cases in the following categories:

  • Coverage extension:Enabling services for commercial activities in industries (e.g., agriculture, mining, forestry) that occur outside inhabited areas.
  • Internet of Things: Addressing requirements for low power IoT applications related to monitoring of assets, infrastructure, or the environment.
  • Disaster communication: Making satellite communication available as a fallback when existing cellular infrastructure is damaged through natural disaster.
  • Global roaming: Supplementing the tracking of containers in a harbor or via a transoceanic trip with coverage in areas where only satellite communication is possible.
  • Broadcasting: Making the same application content (e.g., mobile gaming) available over a very wide area or at many different edge locations.

The market also reflects two broader categories. Time will tell which one gains the most or earliest currency.

  • New Radio (NR) NTN communications: In NR access technology, NTN is used to deliver connections around the world anytime, anywhere. With NTN, the NR system can offer wide-area coverage and ensure service availability for its users.
  • IoT NTN (or LTE M / NB IoT): This category is typically defined by its low cost, low power requirements, and usage in outdoor settings with a large number of devices.

How Octasic Makes Waves in NTN

Octasic products support NTN use cases with its DSP-based programmable system-on-chip (SoC) processors. The OCT3032 is a low-power, high performance multi-core DSP and includes an integrated 5G end-to-end customizable reference solution.

Additionally, the OctNode2 Dual-Channel SDR is a software-defined radio base station that supports 5G and LTE use cases. It integrates seamlessly with the OCT3032 to provide a powerful solution.

Specific use cases supported by this combination include, but are not limited to:

  • Smart farming
  • Livestock monitoring
  • Oil and gas infrastructure
  • Tactical defense IoT and communications
  • Maritime
  • Ground logistics transportation

The emergence of NTN has unlocked a multitude of opportunities for industries and applications that were previously underserved by cellular services. With vast areas of the world lacking cellular coverage, NTN becomes the solution to ensure service continuity, ubiquity, and scalability. With the potential for global roaming, disaster communication, broadcasting, and IoT, NTN and Octasic products have the capacity to revolutionize connectivity and bridge the digital divide. The future holds immense possibilities as NTN continues to make waves in transforming industries and connecting the world like never before.

In the next blog in this series, we’ll discuss considerations for programmable logic. Stay tuned.

To download our full white paper on 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks and Satellites that includes topics discussed in this blog, click here.

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