Satellite Internet More Stable Than 5G for Connected Cars

Satellite internet technology is a more stable solution than 5G or LTE for connected cars, Kymeta, a US-based connectivity company, has claimed.

Cellular internet connectivity can be provided from terrestrial cell towers, which tend to offer fast speeds but over short ranges, or via satellites that can offer faster speeds over greater ranges – at a much higher cost.

Trouble arises when a connected car is moving through rural, largely-unconnected environments which do not have any regular terrestrial cellular connectivity.

TU-Automotive spoke to Tom Freeman, SVP of Kymeta’s connected car division, and Ben Posthuma, Connectivity Solutions Manager, about how satellite technology can be used on cars.

“Every time we go to the next generation of cellular technology, we shorten the distance each one of these transmitters have, so outside of urban environments the signal may not reach. Cars, by their nature, have a tendency to travel out of dense urban areas where 5G is. Plus, these transmitters are ugly!” Freeman said when I asked about how suitable 5G was for use in cars.

Posthuma, meanwhile, was even more forthright. “Terrestrial-based 5G is going to be challenging outside of the dense environments simply because there’s no model that showed it’s a good idea to extend significant density of 5G out beyond population environments.”

However, Posthuma went on to say that while 5G may not be the best solution for a vehicle when using cell towers, 5G over satellite was a very different matter. “However, I think that the 5G network itself has been built extremely well to support very diverse types of communications platforms. Think of things like industrial IoT, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) – all of that can exist inside the 5G ecosystem. And while we won’t be able to rely on 5G terrestrially in rural environments, we are looking into being able to deliver 5G to the vehicle directly over satellite.”

However, the real benefit behind satellite technology in a connected car would be the switching of networks, between 5G, LTE, and satellite, without the user ever realising or knowing where the connectivity is coming from, as Freeman explains. “The big benefit to the user is continuous connectivity. And that could be a WhatsApp call, it could be a voice over LTE, it could be any app you can dream of, and it will switch between LTE, 5G, and satellite seamlessly. From the users point of view, the session is never dropped, the session is always completed, and they don’t know or care how, where they’re getting their bits from.”

Somewhat surprisingly, this works by using technology that exists in our televisions, together with a ‘flat panel’ satellite antenna. “Our core technology is a beam forming flat panel satellite antenna; a flat panel antenna that is based on LCD technology. So the same technology that is in your TV – we use the pixels in the antenna, just like the pixels on TV are used to form a picture, we’re using the pixels on the antenna to be able to form a beam and point and track the satellite,” Freeman told me.

Furthermore, the system can automatically decide what signal to use for what application, as Freeman explains. “We are basically using algorithms to understand what is the best way of connecting for the type of traffic the user is demanding. So if the user wants to get Netflix, the system understands they want to stream video, the cellular link is the best link to do that on right now. Or if they want to send an email, the system recognises perhaps the satellite link is the best way to do that right now. So it will use that link.”

This is what Freeman calls “the secret sauce”: the system doesn’t have to choose between different connectivity solutions, but can use different solutions for different applications, based on those algorithms. “So that’s the secret sauce of what we’re building here. It doesn’t necessarily choose one or the other, it’s going to take a number of different inputs. So the type of traffic being requested, who the user is, what they’re doing, what kind of subscription they have.”

He continued: “If the cellular network, for example, is wide open and available, and you’re getting many, many megabits per second down and up with there’s no packet loss and there’s very low latency it is possible the majority of traffic will go over that link. However, the system is constantly evaluating both the satellite and cellular links to make sure they are performing to what it thinks they are. As soon as that cellular link starts degrading, or as soon as it becomes congested, it’s going to start moving traffic over to the other links. So it’s not a one or the other situation where you’re on cellular until cellular is gone. And then switch over to a satellite. It really is using multiple links at once.”

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