5G Satcomms and Health

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The Catapult’s position to support the uptake of satellite-enabled technology and solutions has never limited us to only using data from satellites. We acknowledge that a combination of data sources in some cases can provide an even better solution than one alone. This has been demonstrated widely in sectors such as agriculture where a combination of ground sensor and Earth Observation data provides a farmer with accurate and scalable crop health information.

In our Health Living Lab, we have been utilising the benefits that come with combining terrestrial and satellite communications networks, and in particular the use of 5G and satellites. 5G is currently a huge area of innovation focus for many industries, with the key features being options for high speeds, large amounts of data transfer, and network slicing. The critical difference between previous terrestrial generations and 5G is the change of focus from connecting people to connecting devices with each other – autonomous vehicles, remote robotics, and intelligent transport infrastructure are some examples.

Despite the multitude of possibilities enabled by 5G, terrestrial communications cannot provide global coverage, something which can be achieved by satellites. The latest developments in satellite communications to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) altitude, as opposed to the traditional GEO (Geostationary Orbit), will revolutionise the speed of connectivity from the satellites as the data will be required to travel a much shorter distance. Therefore, a combination of the latest satellite and terrestrial technology provides the enhanced features of 5G along with further coverage from satellites.

We are privileged to be involved in the MK:5G Connecting Communities Testbed demonstrating how a 5G network rollout across Milton Keynes, which is supported by our 5G Centre at Westcott, can change the way that healthcare is delivered. One particular use case that we are developing alongside Milton Keynes Council is looking at making the patient transfer from care homes or assisted living sites more efficient and cost-effective. Our role is to investigate and highlight some options of devices enabled by this additional connectivity that could be deployed in these homes that might remove the necessity to transfer the individual in the first place as care could be delivered directly to them instead.

Another use case we are looking at is around the care pathway associated with bowel cancer, one of the only two types of cancer that can be fully prevented if its precursors – polyps – are detected early. The vast majority of diagnostic procedures are currently endoscopies undertaken at a clinic that has restrictions on the number of screenings per day, further reduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The NHS Long Term Plan committed to modernising the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, and we are looking at developing the use of capsule endoscopies to deliver screening outside of the clinic using enhanced connectivity, drones, and connected delivery robots.

Our previous blog – Innovating the New Normal of Health and Wellbeing – explains some more of our health-related focus areas and explores some of our current projects which are using terrestrial and satellite communications to support developments in those areas.

If you would like to know more about our Health and Wellbeing focus or to get in touch with us, please visit https://sa.catapult.org.uk/markets/health-wellbeing/.