Narrowband IoT for SmallSat Networks

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The overall objective with the complete program is to be the first to demonstrate 5G NB-IoT Non-Terrestrial using satellites in Low Earth Orbit. Under the existing project activity (Definition Phase), the main purpose is to identify areas for which the existing terrestrial NB-IoT requires significant adaptations to work from space. The following phase will include implementation of critical algorithms’ Doppler compensation, synchronization, cell search, paging and access.

Demonstration of the complete systems on ground is planned for Q1 2021, and further test in orbit is planned for late 2021.

The implementation is divided in two 1) a space segment which is installed on a software defined radio (SDR) payload with applicable antenna system. 2) the solution for the UE which can be installed either on dedicated HW or be integrated into a suitable purpose specific chipset.

The solution will ensure a fully commercial reliable communication between a massive number of UE on ground and the satellite constellation (1 to several).

In addition, a complete test bed is established for testing and qualifying the advanced communication protocol under near real conditions.

A fully commercial capable implementation is planned for operation in mid-2022.


The elements that are critical for the final commercial product offering are related to:

1.Ensure that the handling of the Doppler effect and frequency estimation are sufficiently accurate to secure an efficient service of thousands of devices connected.

2.Secure an efficient use of spectrum under the latency and timing conditions for synchronization implied by operating a communication system from space.

3.Develop a concept for Cell Search, Paging and power saving for devices distributed globally with disrupted connectivity and different/changing geographical location. 


The ability to simulate and predict system capacity in space communication systems is not available today for advanced communication schemes like NB-IoT and 5G. Therefore, it is edge knowledge and a competitive advantage to have such a tool available. This tool is developed under the proposed activities by Moltsen Advisory.


The end2end solution provides two options 1) a fully 3GPP Rel-17 (transparent) and Rel-18 (Regenerative) compliant solution for UE and for the space segment.

The 2nd option is a non 3GPP compliant IoT/M2M solution that consists of a terminal solution and a space segment implementation which will ensure the dedicated IoT/M2M service.

Further, the solutions will support FOTA and support a massive number of (capacity of several thousand) devices in FOV. For both end2end solutions, an advanced power saving scheme is implemented to ensure very low power consumption for the UE and terminals as well as for the satellite implementation.

System Architecture

The Non-Terrestrial Network NB-IoT is defined in two modes: a Transparent Mode and a Regenerative Mode. The figure shows a configuration where the NodeB functionality is located in the satellite (Regenerative) which will support low density smallsat constellations providing IoT and M2M services. Having the NodeB located behind the ground station will require the satellite to “relay” the data and be somehow transparent towards the UE and the Backhaul.

The UE shown supports both the transparent and the regenerative mode.


The 3GPP organization plans to start up the standardization (Rel-17) study work during the second half of 2020 and GateHouse plays a role in the contribution to the standardization for Rel-17 and the successor Rel-18. Beside the 3GPP contribution, GateHouse is also joining the Satellite Standardization Interest Group (SSIG) managed by Thales Alina Space.

which is initiated by ESA via the ALIX project (

Current status

The project was established in February 2020 and MTR was approved in September 2020. Full access and adaptations are implemented in simulation environment and porting to HW is ongoing targeting the demon in Q1 2021. 

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