Satellite-Based Cellular Backhaul: Myths & Facts

By: Michal Aharonov, Gilat Satellite Networks

5G networks are knocking on our door. Data proliferation is accelerating. The need for ubiquitous coverage is growing. For all these reasons, backhauling requirements are expanding quickly. It is noteworthy that the Sat5G consortium of companies defined satellite communications as an integral enabler of the 5G connectivity vision. They have an inherent advantage when facilitating ubiquitous connectivity while driving network efficiencies forward.

As the mobile network continues to evolve in terms of technology, services and outreach, mobile network operators (MNOs) need to adapt their cellular backhaul solutions to these changing requirements. As data usage grows exponentially, cellular backhaul strategies must change to take into account user expectations in terms of performance and reliability. User experience is particularly critical for rich media and broadband services and has become a key differentiator with the adoption of 4G networks.

In the past, the use of satellite communications for cellular backhaul was considered a last resort because of bandwidth limitations and high costs. The satellite option for cellular backhauling was used only for hard-to-reach rural areas such as islands, mountains and deserts, where terrestrial infrastructure such as fiber, next-generation copper or microwave were either too expensive or unfeasible.

Today, with technology advancements in mobile technology and the satellite industry, traditional perceptions about satellite backhaul are quickly becoming obsolete. With Non-GEO Satellite (NGSO) constellations, abundance of capacity and ground segment innovations, there is no question about the role of satellite backhaul. Today, MNOs are required to support their subscribers, who require high-quality broadband connectivity wherever they go on land, sea and air. As a result, satellite backhaul is enabling not only an extension of connectivity to remote locations but also serves as the prime solution for use cases such emergency response, network backup and IoT applications.

While the business case for satellite backhaul has never been stronger, there still remains one major barrier to widespread deployment: perception. Common negative misperceptions of satellite backhaul revolve around three persistent myths: satellite’s inadequate performance, high costs and unmanageable complexity. One of the main reasons for these misperceptions is a lack of familiarity with satellite technology. Often, decision makers are unaware of the recent innovations in satellite technology, which leads to apprehension about its suitability for cellular backhaul.

The best way to alleviate these false impressions is to examine the common myths one by one.

Myth: 4G/5G Performance Cannot be Met with Satellite Backhaul

With the large amounts of required data communication, MNOs raise concerns that VSATs are not able to deliver the required LTE performance to the handset. They are concerned these satellites will not be able to support the high throughput required for the 5G network architecture. In addition, as satellite communication has an inherent delay, a concern persists that this delay will result in poor backhaul performance and, consequentially, a poor user experience. 

These concerns are unfounded, as today’s satellite technology can provide true LTE speeds for the required user experience. Further, VSAT performance of over 1Gbps has been demonstrated, satisfying the requirements for 5G networks. 

Fact: Acceleration Technologies Mitigate Latency Effects

Application acceleration is especially critical when high bandwidth is required, as in 4G/5G deployments. The inherent satellite delay can be overcome by using acceleration technology that mitigates the latency effects. It is possible to achieve high throughput that requires high performance modems to accommodate the traffic and provide the required quality of experience.


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