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5G in space: Lockheed Martin, Omnispace eye satellite-based network for commercial, government use.

US startup Omnispace has clinched a landmark agreement with defence and aerospace multinational Lockheed Martin. The two will explore the possibility of collaborating to deliver a “global 5G standards-based non-terrestrial network (NTN)” — a satellite-enhanced hybrid (space + terrestrial) 5G network that would let enterprise and government users get seamless low latency connectivity anywhere.

Omnispace, founded in 2012, has been advocating that vision for close to a decade and has a single satellite in space to help demonstrate it. The company described itself to The Stack as “unique in that, as we are using 5G NTN standards, we are able to allow a device to use a single chipset and antenna to operate on both satellite and terrestrial networks. Unlike others who are focused on developing proprietary satellite solutions, we are embracing 5G technology to enable direct-to-device connectivity… around the world.”

Its vision, in short, is to provide global satellite and terrestrial 5G services in a common spectrum band. That will be backed by using some hard-won priority 2 GHz S-band spectrum rights, as well as employing 3GPP standards to “enable direct-to-device connectivity and interoperability. In collaboration with Lockheed Martin, this hybrid 5G network would provide the coverage and capacity to support essential applications requiring seamless, reliable, global communications,” Omnispace said in a press release posted March 23.

Lockheed Martin has extensive satellite experience and a sophisticated portfolio. Credit: Lockeed Martin.

The “strategic interest agreement” between Lockheed Martin and Virginia-based Omnispace comes a week after the latter successfully tested 5G-via-satellite capability in a LinQuest lab demonstration for the US Navy and Marine Corps, using commercial-off-the-shelf 5G devices — proving its ability to communicate voice and data services via an emulated 5G radio access network (RAN), to Omnispace’s on-orbit satellite.

“We share a common vision with Omnispace of a space-based 5G global network that would enable users to seamlessly transition between satellite and terrestrial networks — eliminating the need for multiple devices on multiple networks,” noted Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space.

See also: UK pledges to make more “creative and routine” use of offensive cyber tools in sweeping defence review

He added: “Ultimately, it’s about empowering end users with low latency connections that work anywhere. This step forward has the potential to upend space-based mobility.

Omnispace currently has a single asset in orbit which supports some technology demonstration, but it’s very much early days for the company, which told The Stack: “We have not disclosed the number of satellites we are planning to launch at this time as we are still finalizing the details of the future commercial platform.”

Backing from Lockheed Martin with its extensive satellite experience and portfolio could move things along rapidly however. Omnispace closed a $60 million equity financing round in early February 2020 with fresh backing from Fortress Group earlier said it aims to begin limited services in 2022. Regulatory filings suggest as early as 2014 Omnispace was the owner and operator of a mid-earth orbit (“MEO”) satellite system consisting of space and ground assets that represented a cumulative investment at the time of over $1.5 billion. Early filings with both Canadian and UK authorities suggest securing S-band spectrum has been a struggle.

Monday this week (March 22, 2021) meanwhile UK-based startup Open Cosmos launched two nanosatellites on the Soyuz-2 rocket, which took off from the Baikonur base in Kazakhstan. Among the two was a 5G IoT satellite for telecom operator Sateliot – which the company described “the first of its kind to provide continuous IoT connectivity, merging satellite and terrestrial networks under the 5G protocol.”

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