Operator Telefónica and satellite firm Sateliot say they have successfully extended the reach of 5G into space ‘for the first time in the history of telecommunications’.

The test, which was supervised by the European Space Agency, provided satellite coverage extension to Telefónica’s cellular network through standard GSMA roaming using a regular SIM card on an IoT cellular device, which weas able to switch to the Sateliot network.

Something called ‘Store & Forward’ was implemented to complete the test, which is described as a two step authentication method created to support standard roaming with an operator and adapted to the Non-Terrestrial Network in low earth orbit.

This technology stores data when the satellite is not in position to connect with a ground station, and forwards it as it enters the coverage range, we’re told. This comes in handy for Sateliot’s ‘delay-tolerant’ IoT services for its early-stage constellation, where the number of satellites is still limited.

The firms claim this proves that a standard roaming connection can be authenticated by the Telefónica core through Sateliot networks, and ultimately means the latter can enter commercial operations for space-based connectivity in 2024.

What all this means, the firms say, is that Telefonica will be the first operator to provide customers with ‘NB-IoT everywhere-in-the-planet’ connectivity through a combo of cellular and satellite standard NB-IoT network and with commercial standard NB-IoT devices. Which is a bit of a mouthful, but basically seems to mean offering specifically IoT 5G connectivity in hard to reach areas.

“This is the culmination of years of studies and developments of our Store & Forward two-step authentication procedure that gives Sateliot a unique position to establish roaming extension for NB-IoT NTN delay tolerant applications,” said Marco Guadalupi, CTO of Sateliot. “We are in front of a game changer in future 3GPP networks that will reduce costs based on low density constellations and reduced ground segment infrastructure, minimizing the impact in space and reducing time to market. It is very exciting to see where we are and what we have accomplished. The IoT industry is clearly headed toward the standard, and we are thrilled to enable it.”

Antonio Franchi, Head of Space for 5G and 6G Strategic Programme at the European Space Agency added: “Sateliot has achieved an important milestone by successfully demonstrating the integration of Low-Earth orbit and NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) with roaming capabilities in Store&Forward mode, along with two-step authentication into a 5G cellular network.

“This significant achievement marks a disruptive advancement in the realm of standard satellite IoT services. The successful integration of these technologies paves the way for the digitalization of the world, revolutionizing how we harness satellite capabilities for the benefit of global connectivity and communication.”

There are a lot of firsts being claimed right now in the satellite connectivity space, some of them twice. On Tuesday Lynk said it has carried out two-way voice calls over its network, posting a video on YouTube as proof, and claiming this as a world first.

However rival D2D operator AST SpaceMobile made the same claim in April when alongside AT&T, Vodafone and Rakuten, it said it used its own satellite network to conduct a two-way voice call between the US and Japan.

In less contested territory, last week BT and OneWeb completed what they called the ‘first real-world example’ of how remote areas can be connected via LEO satellite, by hooking up the remote island of Lundy off the Devon coast – which was no doubt a relief to the 28 humans and 21,000 seabirds that live there.

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