A satellite system together with gateways and fixed terrestrial networks as shown in Figure 5.1 has to route data transmissions from one user to another as any other network does. Routing in the fixed segment (on earth) is achieved as usual, while two different solutions exist for the satellite network in space. If satellites offer ISLs, traffic can be routed between the satellites. If not, all traffic is relayed to earth, routed there, and relayed back to a satellite. Assume two users of a satellite network exchange data. If the satellite system supports ISLs, one user sends data up to a satellite and the satellite forwards it to the one responsible for the receiver via other satellites. This last satellite now sends the data down to the earth. This means that only one uplink and one downlink per direction is needed. The ability of routing within the satellite network reduces the number of gateways needed on earth. If a satellite system does not offer ISLs, the user also sends data up to a satellite, but now this satellite forwards the data to a gateway on earth. Routing takes place in fixed networks as usual until another gateway is reached which is responsible for the satellite above the receiver. Again data is sent up to the satellite which forwards it down to the receiver. This solution requires two uplinks and two downlinks. Depending on the orbit and the speed of routing in the satellite network compared to the terrestrial network, the solution with ISLs might offer lower latency. The drawbacks of ISLs are higher system complexity due to additional antennas and routing hard- and software for the satellites.

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