Article | 21 February 2024

Exploring the Key Differences Between LEO Satellites and 5G

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An article inspired by Cradlepoint's blog.

Businesses nowadays are increasingly on the hunt for more robust and reliable solutions to meet their enterprise connectivity needs. Although broadband and high-earth orbit (HEO) solutions have been utilized for decades, these are now being phased out in favour of emerging cellular and satellite technologies such as 5G and SpaceX’s Starlink, a type of low-earth orbit (LEO) Internet solution.

Although LEO satellites and 5G cellular Internet solutions both come with their respective benefits, challenges, and use cases, they can be complementary to and back one another up via a failover setup when deployed in the right way.

What are LEO Satellites?

LEO satellites, as the name suggests, sit in low earth orbit, and transmit data to and from earth to provide Internet connectivity.

They represent a major improvement over HEO solutions in that they only require a clear view of the sky to provide Internet connectivity anywhere on earth. As a result, they’re primarily used by individuals and businesses in remote locations that are unserved by wired Internet access or cell towers.

There has been rapid growth of the adoption of LEO Internet connectivity solutions in recent years. SpaceX, for example, has amassed more than 1.5 million subscribers since 2019, and this number is continuing to grow.

Comparing LEO Satellites and 5G

LEO satellites began as a type of fixed wireless access solution requiring a satellite dish to be mounted to buildings. Today, companies such as Starlink provide weather-resistsant dishes that can be deployed atop vehicles or boats, allowing organizations to maintain connectivity everywhere they go.

Although LEO solutions can provide broadband over the air in virtually any location, they still differ a lot from 5G.

Here’s a breakdown of the key differences:

1. Widespread Coverage

The main draw of LEO satellite solutions is their inherent ability to bypass the limitations of Internet infrastructure and provide connectivity to remote or otherwise underserved locations. They do, however, require a clear view of the sky without any obstructions.

In contrast, 5G infrastructure is typically better for servicing populated areas. Different types of 5G optimize performance and propagation differently, which gives companies options for better overall coverage than LEO satellites.

2. Network Speed & Performance

LEO satellites offer typical download speeds in the 50 to 250 Mbps range in optimal conditions where there are no obstructions.

5G can average download speeds all the way up to 2Gbps. While LEO satellite has shorter latency than HEO satellite, it’s still longer than what 5G offers.

3. Higher Capacity

The adoption of LEO satellite connectivity is growing. This means that naturally, issues surrounding network congestion are beginning to come to light. Although solutions providers are working to increase capacity, there might be some negative impacts on the network performance in the short term.

In contrast, 5G has virtually unlimited capacity. It can support up to a thousand times more capacity than 4G, and traffic can be much more easily optimized by using advanced techniques such as network slicing, which allows multiple networks to be created on top of a common physical infrastructure.

4. Advanced Security Features

LEO satellite connectivity solutions provide widespread coverage and performance for a variety of applications, but when it comes to security, they may be lacking in the features needed to prevent sophisticated security breaches.

However, connecting a satellite gateway to a cellular router, such as Cradlepoint provides built-in security features, as well as optional layers such as zero–trust. This can all be managed through a single platform, NetCloud, with support from Blue Wireless experts.

5. Cost Effective

It takes a long time for satellite connectivity companies to develop and deploy new LEO satellites. Comparing that to 5G/LTE networks, it’s much easier for 5G providers to build new masts.

This means that 5G solutions can be provided at a lower price because the cost of growing infrastructure can be spread across a wider customer base. Cellular connectivity also offers significantly more cost options based on a bigger market of service providers, different locations, and available data plans.

Maximize LEO’s Connectivity with Fixed Wireless Access

5G and LEO satellites can work together with wired links to form a more reliable network, despite their differences. When your 5G connection fails, LEO connectivity can step in immediately as a viable failover option, and vice-versa. Imagine the possibilities!

Choose for worry-free wireless connectivity

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When you work with a global provider like Blue Wireless, you get the best of both worlds. From remote sites to maritime vessels, we will take care of the procurement, installation, data, monitoring and support across all your wireless estate (so you don't have to) - all at a fixed price, underpinned by SLAs on speed and availability across 89 countries worldwide.

To find out more about how a combined LEO-5G solution could be the right fit for your business needs, get in touch with our Wireless Experts today!

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Tim

Tim Patrick, Pre-Sales & Product Manager

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Tim
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