The transformation of 5G and telemedicine

25 November 2020

Kyle Whitehill, CEO of Avanti Communications

Kyle Whitehill, CEO of Avanti Communications

Developing communities, particularly the most marginalised, are playing catch up in telecommunications infrastructure.

There are various ways that satellite technology can support 5G satellite connectivity services to lots of different locations. Extending this to include efficient content pre-positioning to edge caches to take advantage of an inherent satellite strength may require some further integration work. The provision of 5G service direct to consumer phones via satellite will however require considerable further developments. This is expected to take time for the relevant development work to be carried out.

Avanti led the SaT5G project that developed standards and prototype systems to ensure seamless integration with terrestrial 5G.

Based on SaT5G analysis we think there are four immediate roles that satellite can play in the 5G ecosystem: providing backhaul connections to remote and rural locations; using satellite multicast in video and game content to store data; providing 5G services direct to homes and small businesses and providing 5G connections direct to moving locations such as planes, ships and trains. The capabilities can further extend to include providing 5G connections to collect massive machine-type communications (mMTC) data and to add alternative resilient connections to locations requiring higher levels of network reliability.

The satellite communication sector has coordinated its ongoing work within 3GPP that to date has described the architecture aspects for satellite in 5G and there is wide ranging support for satellite involvement in 5G beyond the satellite sector.  This work is ongoing and is supported by complimentary actions in other bodies such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) covering related issues. As already mentioned, projects such as EC H2020 SaT5G, within ESA’s satellite for 5G Initiative has allowed the satcom industry to work within 3GPP to develop the successful integration of satellite communications into the 5G standards.

The 3GPP identified many end users’ services many of which work adequately over satellite. The SaT5G demonstrated the delivery of Ultra HD video content to handheld devices using Avanti’s HYLAS satellite capacity. Using multicast to stream live action events to multiple locations and to preposition popular content in caches close to edge is an area that satellites will be able to support well.  Likewise, providing backhaul capacity for enhanced mobile broadband delivered by 5G in rural, remote and moving locations will require satellites.  This capacity may be the only connection; it may also provide both top-up or backup capacity where an alternative backhaul solution is employed.

Satellite already provides some services to connected vehicles, for example satellite radio in North America and emergency connections for very remote locations. Extending this so that satellite communications is used for critical applications such as ambulances in remote areas to provide better initial treatment will be something that develops over time. This may well, in time, extend to provide infotainment to passengers.

We are constantly working to increase and extend its service to the carrier market and the incorporation of 5G services based on its active role in projects such as SaT5G is a natural development and are interested in following the progress being made regarding standards and interoperability.

Looking at other advancements in the world today telemedicine has never been more topical or relevant, given the ongoing pandemic.

There are learnings every industry will take from this experience and we’ve seen how technology can really aid the healthcare industry and help ease some of the stress experienced by medical professionals. The concern for many has been how people can continue to safely access healthcare services, given social distancing measures and the closure of GP surgeries. Technology has been adapting to this change and we are seeing the introduction of video consultations. Satellite operators are able to assist in this process by providing quick, reliable and effective connectivity for patients to access doctors, nurses, pharmacists remotely.

This is particularly true for remote and rural areas that often do not have access to a formal healthcare system and often rely on small, underequipped medical clinics. Satellite connectivity can enable those rural clinics to have access to more sophisticated facilities and looking ahead, this technology will be important in providing face to face consultations with medical professionals for people outside urban centres and cities.

Technology will be able to connect individuals to more healthcare professionals from remote locations which would positively impact the decision process in a medical situation, for example two groups of people looking at an x-ray in real time will enable a quicker diagnosis than it would be to get these groups of people in the same room physically. This would enable the advice of medical professionals around the world tapping into their own individual experience. Ultimately, being able to rapidly connect healthcare professionals to individuals particularly in developing countries through technology will have profound effects. 

Avanti is committed to mobilising satellite technology to support refugees, host communities and humanitarian organisations, specifically in Africa, providing access to connectivity in the remotest of locations and when faced with challenges that a pandemic puts forward satellite technology has a vital role to play in connecting communities and individuals where ever they are based. 

In one such example, we donated solar satellite broadband connectivity and laptops to refugee settlements in east Africa. In July 2019, we donated solar powered satellite broadband to The Social Innovation Academy (SINA)’s Bidi Bidi site. This is the first of three installations we will be donating to the refugee settlement. SINA’s site is off grid, in a very remote location and is now able to provide its beneficiaries with access to the internet and an ICT lab. SINA provides refugees and members of the host community with access to connectivity where alternatives do not exist due to the lack of electricity and financial means in the settlement.

SINA’s connected centre is being used by over 70 people on a daily basis including SINA members as well as teachers and youth from the surrounding area. Refugees and the host communities are using their smartphones as well as laptops provided by Avanti to get online. The satellite broadband Avanti has donated is being used by SINA’s beneficiaries for access to job and grant applications, self-learning websites, researching project and enterprise ideas, online mentorship, independent news, reconnecting with relatives and the creation of social media pages for start-ups.

The satellite communications sector is experiencing unprecedented change with new entrants, new technology, old markets changing and new markets opening up. Senior executives of satellite operators must embrace these changes, be flexible and adapt and certainly at Avanti we have done that. For the past 40 years, satellite has been connecting people across the world, carried information that has enlightened, educated and informed people, provided connectivity to remote regions, bridged the economic divides, while providing communications to protect us. Satellite will continue to do so for the next 40 years.