Unlocking Tomorrow’s Connections today: A Comprehensive Discussion on MediaTek’s Extra-Terrestrial Network Innovation

Sponsored by MediaTek

As an enthusiast of 5G technology and one of its early users, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Cliff Lin, who holds the position of MediaTek’s assistant General Manager. He has been working on researching and developing new streams of revenue in the key areas of Non-Terrestrial Networks, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Machine-to-Machine (M2M), and Wearables, etc. since 2013. He’s recognized for not only his technical expertise but high-level achievements in strategic marketing and project management. For those who don’t know, MediaTek is a significant player in the world of semiconductor manufacturing – they’re ranked fourth worldwide! Their specialty lies in creating cutting-edge system chips for a range of products, such as mobile devices, home entertainment systems, and various Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets. Astonishingly, MediaTek’s technology finds its way into more than 2 billion devices each year. This means their tech resides in 20% of homes and powers one-third of mobile phones globally.

I had a chance to interview Cliff Lin and here’s how it unfolded:

Nicolas Babin: Hi there, Cliff! Thanks for chatting today. We’re diving into the world of Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN). Could you unpack what NTN is,  how it differs from conventional networks, and perhaps share a brief history about it?

Cliff Lin: Certainly, Nicolas. Let’s make it easy. Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) involve mobile communication methods that utilize space-based technology like satellites, as opposed to the standard ground-based infrastructures like cell towers we usually use.

Since mobile phone debuted in the 1990s, mobile communication methods have largely remained earthbound. However, these systems can’t reach everywhere, particularly remote areas because of the difficulty to build or too expensive to build cell towers there.

Now, let’s talk about the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). Since 1998, it has been developing technical standards for mobile communication based on evolved GSM networks. Their work, divided into “Releases,” has provided standards for 3G, 4G, and 5G technologies. 3GPP collaborates with wireless technology leaders like MediaTek to ensure mobile network standards are universally functional.

NTNs are part of their work and play a significant role in the 5G specifications, started in Releases 17. They aim to make Non-Terrestrial Networks a recognized part of 5G connectivity infrastructure to solve coverage problems and use cases that ground infrastructure alone cannot address.

Nicolas Babin: Very interesting! Can you elaborate on MediaTek’s NTN technology, and why satellites are the preferred option over alternatives like high-altitude platforms or drones?

Cliff Lin: NTN applies not only to satellites but also to airborne vehicles like Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS), or drones.

5G NTN has two segments: IoT-NTN and NR-NTN. IoT-NTN is designed for small, low-data connections for messaging or non-real-time data. It’s perfect for messaging, location services, and remote area operations.

On the other hand, NR-NTN offers faster data rates for calls and streaming usage in sparsely populated areas and across oceans. Importantly, all NTNs integrate seamlessly into devices like smartphones without any additional hardware because they are built on the same modem. Our goal is to blend both terrestrial and satellite technologies into one comprehensive 5G solution that can transition between networks on Earth and in space smoothly.

Nicolas Babin: Fascinating! Could you give some examples of MediaTek’s NTN use cases and how it could augment our current networks?

Cliff Lin: Absolutely. NTN can provide connectivity in remote areas like isolated villages, offshore platforms, ships, or places hit by disasters that cripple regular ground infrastructures. It also provides additional coverage during periods of high traffic or when the regular network is unavailable. We aim to integrate NTN with current cellular , Bluetooth, and WiFi to enhance user experience and deliver full coverage anywhere on Earth.

Nicolas Babin: I can imagine there must be challenges. What hurdles is MediaTek facing in developing and maintaining its NTN?

Cliff Lin: Indeed, challenges exist. The main one is integrating NTN capabilities into our existing 5G modem. We’re not venturing into service provision; we aim to support NTN capabilities on our 5G modem and deliver chipsets that different manufacturers can use. Service providers are still figuring out pricing structures for NTN services, and there are varying regulations in different countries.

Nicolas Babin: Lastly, how does MediaTek’s NTN impact network performance, reliability, and security compared to traditional networks or other providers?

Cliff Lin: NTN provides service ubiquity and overall network reliability, as it’s less susceptible to outages from natural disasters or infrastructure failures. It’s also more secure as you can’t sever a satellite link like a fiber-optic cable. However, NTN is not meant to replace but complement and enhance terrestrial networks, making the overall system more resilient.

Nicolas Babin: Thanks, Cliff. MediaTek’s NTN is a pioneering step towards universal connectivity. MediaTek, as one of the major contributors to the 3GPP standard, is at the forefront of this revolution, shaping the industry with their inventive 5G NTN solutions that will soon benefit users worldwide. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. Thanks again!