The 5G Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) market is set to mature by 2025–2026, driving the commercialization of its technology; end-users worldwide should expect their mobile devices to have satellite communication capabilities. TrendForce predicts that the global market value of 5G NTN will jump from US$4.9 billion to $8.8 billion between 2023 to 2026—a CAGR of 7%. This rise in global market value will likely drive chip makers to begin developing 5G NTN technology.
Chip and smartphone makers working hand-in-hand to accelerate the commercialization of 5G NTN
NTN technology uses uplink and downlink transmissions from low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to enable two-way data transmission for end-users in remote areas, which compensates for the inadequate coverage of 5G infrastructure in these parts. As 5G NTN grows increasingly popular, major chip makers have begun working in conjunction with smartphone makers to develop products that possess enhanced satellite communication capabilities, with the aim of increasing their overall market share. They also intend to penetrate the general end-user market by integrating satellite communication chips into their mobile devices.
Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Samsung Electronics have all started working together with smartphone makers to further develop 5G NTN technology. Qualcomm has partnered with OPPO, Xiaomi, and Vivo to integrate Snapdragon satellite-based communication chips into mobile devices. MediaTek is working with UK smartphone maker, Bullitt Group, to incorporate two-way satellite communication chips into their smartphones. Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics has finished data testing for a bi-directional satellite link and plans to integrate satellite communication chips into their own mobile devices, creating a satellite ecosystem. 5G NTN will only grow more commercialized as an increasing number of smartphone makers adopt satellite communication technology.
There are a number of challenges that 5G NTN will have to overcome: First, Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) and NTN technology have undergone parallel development, but the cost competitiveness of 5G NTN may face a bottleneck in the short term as it’s still in the early stages of development. High tariff rates will continue to discourage consumers from buying 5G satellite phones even as their penetration rate grows. As a result, the competitive advantages of 5G NTN will not be apparent for now. Business users in remote areas are unlike to adopt the vertical application of 5G NTN technology until such technology matures and costs begin to fall.
Application of satellite communication to expand into the field of IoT in the wake of rapid 5G NTN development
TrendForce indicates that the rapid development of NTN technology has been fueled by a significant increase in the number of LEO satellites worldwide. SpaceX, the largest LEO satellite operator by far in the world, has launched 4,002 satellites as of March 2023, accounting for 84% of global launches. Trailing behind SpaceX is OneWeb with 582 satellites and Telesat with 80 satellite launches. Smaller satellite operators, such as Iridium, Globalstar, and Inmarsat, have launched a combined total of 104 satellites. LEO satellites are expected to achieve global coverage by 2026, prompting chip makers like MediaTek and Samsung to develop IoT NTN solutions. Furthermore, they have begun exploring the application of satellite communication in IoT scenarios. Overall, the popularization of satellite communication and the development of IoT applications will be key factors in the commercialization of 5G NTN technology.
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