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Exynos Modem 5400: Harnessing the Power of Non-Terrestrial Networks

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This article is part two of a series covering the next-generation capabilities of Exynos Modem 5400. The first article can be found here.


Understanding Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs)

As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy for us to notice antennas and other types of networking equipment installed on top of buildings or towers. These are the key indicators of base stations, fundamental communication points of terrestrial networks, or TNs, which enable our smartphones and other devices to connect wirelessly. In a departure from this traditional connection model, non-terrestrial networks, or NTNs, establish their connections using satellites, drones, or other platforms in the sky.

Not having the limitations of earthbound stations, satellites have been widely used for applications like GPS, overseas broadcasts, meteorological observation, and long-distance telecommunications. Satellite-based NTNs have enabled communication in remote locations that terrestrial networks simply cannot reach, like deserts or oceans. And they also bring the advantage of increased stability, since they can remain operational when terrestrial networks are disrupted in times of disaster or conflict. However, traditional satellite-based networks were only compatible with phones specifically made for satellite connection purposes, meaning without connection to terrestrial networks, users had to inconveniently carry a separate satellite phone.

But communication technologies have continued charging forward. The era of new space has begun,1 and smartphones can now make use of satellite connectivity in a practical way. Notably, private enterprises have entered space communication development, with satellite communication for emergency rescue and reusable satellite launch vehicles. These steps forward have made NTNs, spearheaded by Exynos Modem, the next evolution in telecommunications technology.

What advantages do NTNs bring?

It is much easier to connect in places with well-established terrestrial networks than more remote, mountainous terrains, which make cellular connections more difficult. Areas with no signal, also known as dead zones, pose challenges for users who want — or need — to contact others.

Whether you are in Yellowstone National Park or the Gobi Desert, for example, there are many difficulties in relying on terrestrial networks for communication. What if you are stranded in a storm, and you have no signal? With NTNs, you will be able to get in touch without issue. This is because NTNs have been developed to overcome the limitations posed by terrestrial networks and maintain stable communication in any setting.

NTNs are particularly beneficial when developing countries need to establish infrastructure for new technology communication networks but lack sufficient capital to invest in terrestrial networks. NTNs not only offer more connections in a wider variety of areas, but they do so at a lower cost. They can also be built quickly, which means all regions are able to gain access to coverage in no time. These benefits form a strong basis for the shift from terrestrial networks to NTNs.

Apart from being ideal for day-to-day communication, NTNs become critical in the event of disaster or conflict, which may render terrestrial networks unavailable. With terrestrial networks, base stations are easily damaged — especially by earthquakes — and it's easy to imagine a situation in which a communication network goes down. In that case, it would be critical for people affected to communicate with loved ones, call for help, or access crucial evacuation information.

What are the main types of NTNs?

Illustration of satellite networks at different altitudes connecting to various ground devices, highlighting the key features of NB-IoT NTN and 5G(NR) NTN technologies.
Illustration of satellite networks at different altitudes connecting to various ground devices, highlighting the key features of NB-IoT NTN and 5G(NR) NTN technologies.

NB-IoT NTNs (Narrow-Band Internet-of-Things NTNs): NB-IoT is a low-power, wide-area wireless technology standard developed to connect a variety of devices and services using cellular communication bands. By integrating NTNs into the NB-IoT framework, NB-IoT NTNs can provide connectivity to devices and sensors in remote or hard-to-reach areas. Currently, they primarily use High Earth Orbit (HEO) satellites and Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites, with Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites being planned for use in the future. It is also an LTE-based NTN technology, which utilizes a narrow band (180kHz).

Integrating NB-IoT with NTNs improves the range and reach of IoT applications, enabling IoT connectivity in rural or remote areas. This combination extends the coverage and reliability of IoT services across a wide range of industries, with many potential applications.

5G NR NTNs (Fifth-Generation New Radio NTNs): Using the 5G NR standard, 5G NR NTNs offer faster data speeds, lower latency, and more capacity than the existing NB-IoT NTN. They also aim to support an array of applications, including enhanced mobile broadband services. 5G NR NTNs require the use of LEO satellites because GEO satellites are too far away from Earth to process broadband signals.

Legacy LTE Satellite Communications: It is also possible to utilize legacy LTE networks by installing a base station on a satellite, with companies already having implemented LTE-base-station functionality on LEO satellites. This allows existing commercially available devices to send and receive texts or access the internet via satellite communication, without additional updates. As satellites move following a fixed orbit, it is possible to predict the channel between the device and the satellite in advance.

Although delay is caused by the long distance and the Doppler shift,2 these issues can be compensated for in advance,3 allowing the device to communicate as if it were on a terrestrial network. Of course, real-world usage may see limitations on the types of supported services, due to issues like transmission delay, inter-satellite communication time, and satellite-to-gateway data transfer time. But the availability and utilization of such services are expected to increase when a large number of satellites cover all areas of the Earth, made possible by the lower cost of LEO satellites.

Exynos Modems Are Trailblazing NTN Technology

Using the 5G NTN standard as its base, Samsung System LSI has developed satellite technology and successfully completed NR NTN communication between the Exynos Modem reference platform and LEO satellites. At MWC4 2023, Samsung introduced next-generation wireless communication to the industry with a demonstration that showcased two-way SMS texting and video streaming, carried out by 5G NTN Live connectivity with modem equipment.

Then at System LSI Tech Day 2023, Samsung launched the Exynos Modem 5400, a single-chip solution that simultaneously supports NB-IoT NTN and 5G NR NTN. A live demonstration video was presented, which showcased successful two-way text messaging using NB-IoT NTN technology, filmed in parts of Redwood National and State Parks where cellular reception was not available. This was a clear indication that Exynos Modem represents a realization in future technology that will allow more people access to communication — even in areas in which communication infrastructure is lacking.

These technological achievements continued into 2024. In February, the Exynos Modem 5400-based reference platform — developed in collaboration with Skylo — was officially certified as an NB-IoT NTN chipset.

Exynos Modems Realize Dreams of Hyperconnectivity

As a longstanding pioneer and innovator in the telecommunications industry, Samsung System LSI is committed to further advancing NTN technology. That’s why we’re focused on developing both NB-IoT NTN and 5G NR NTN technology, which can send and receive more data at increasingly higher speeds.

Benefits enabled by this technology include ubiquitous coverage, which allows you to stay reliably connected anywhere on the planet, from mountain peaks to the middle of the ocean. And thanks to the ability to connect in areas previously considered to be dead zones, you’ll experience enhanced safety, with access to emergency services and real-time communication with family and friends. Since Exynos Modem 5400 was officially certified as an NB-IoT NTN chipset, users can take advantage of innovative services and applications that leverage continuous connectivity. Finally, improved coverage at competitive pricing is enabled by NTN technology’s extensive coverage without the prohibitive costs associated with traditional satellite services.

This initiative democratizes access to reliable connectivity, making it affordable for consumers and businesses alike. Ultimately, these developments do so much more than push technological capabilities forward — they vastly improve the user experience.


1 Over the past few years, phrases like “new space era” and “new space age” have gained traction, describing the renewed interest in space exploration and travel, as well as increased commercial activity.
2 In 5G NR NTNs and Legacy LTE NTNs, the Doppler shift occurs because, as a satellite orbits the Earth, the relative motion between the satellite and user creates changes in wireless signal frequency. This causes the frequency of the received signal to be different from its origin, reducing reliability and quality.
3 First, the shift is accurately predicted by considering the satellite's motion path and speed. Then, the frequency of the transmitted signal is pre-adjusted, restoring the received signal to its original frequency and enabling accurate communication.
4 Mobile World Congress (MWC) is an annual trade show for the mobile communications industry.