Satellite 5G networks may soon allow the European Space Agency and technology giants CGI to create innovative new products and services which benefit  people across the globe

AN AGREEMENT between the European Space Agency (ESA) and global technology firm CGI, supported by the UK Space Agency, looks set to make major advances in connecting the globe – leading to countless advantages across vital sectors such as health, transport, energy and the environment.

These breakthroughs in space technology will soon enable rapid connectivity in many remote areas to superfast 5G networks – with the health sector likely to be the first to benefit, allowing medical services instant up-to-date information that could save patients’ lives.

“It’s all quite sci-fi but the technology allows huge amount of data to be provided and processed in the blink of an eye and the transformation that will create in how we live and work is going to be quite phenomenal,” said Justene Ewing, vice-president of consulting services at CGI. 

CGI has been working with ESA for some time and earlier this year signed a Memorandum of Intent to pursue space based activities using 5G communications networks. 

The agreement will see the organisations work together to analyse, develop and implement space-enabled innovative technologies, products and services to accelerate the benefits 5G networks can offer.

The focus will be on applications for rural communities, healthcare, logistics and transport, public services, environment and energy, creative industries and smart tourism.

Shaun Stretton, Vice President of Satellite Communications and Space Data Platforms at CGI in the UK said: “This an exciting project that brings together CGI’s Satcom Ground Systems and communications expertise. 

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“After talking to mobile network operators and other key stakeholders for 5G, it became clear that one of the initial challenges is efficiently rolling out networks whilst there are many locations both in the UK and globally that don’t have sufficient access to terrestrial connectivity in order to support 100% 5G coverage. 

“Utilising the global connectivity capabilities available from space in an efficient and integrated manner is the solution, and Carnot-Sat will provide 5G planners with the tool-set they require to achieve it.”

Tara McGeehan, President of CGI in the UK, agrees. She said:  “5G, when combined with space technologies, offers enormous potential to transform how we use technology in our day-to-day lives.  

“We are delighted to be working with ESA to help realise these opportunities. CGI is uniquely placed to unlock these benefits through its experience and capabilities across the space, telecoms and IT domains.”

Shortly before signing the memorandum, CGI was awarded a contract by ESA to develop a tool-kit, called Carnot-Sat, to integrate terrestrial and satellite networks. 

The first of its kind, it will enable network operators to quickly and efficiently design and optimise 5G networks with the use of satellites enabling the rapid delivery of 5G benefits to everyone, everywhere. 

The technology will reduce the cost of rolling out large-scale and rural networks, and have the ability to introduce new hybrid services for applications like connected cars and ‘Internet of Things’ products. 

By focusing on the benefits of satellite networks, it will open up the market for 5G by demonstrating that satellite networks can be brought into the system efficiently and to the benefit of the network operator.

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency, added: “The UK is a leading investor in ESA telecommunications research, and recently committed an additional £250 million to support projects led by innovative companies like CGI. 

“Space technology is vital for the successful roll out of 5G and ubiquitous connectivity more generally. This programme will help people and communities across the whole country to access the next generation of digital services and grow the UK’s thriving space sector and the wider economy.”

As part of the project, CGI will be utilising its state-of-the-art 5G accelerator lab to explore and demonstrate the advantages of integrated satellite and terrestrial systems using over-the-air tests. 

“The UK and CGI in particular are leading the way in looking at how we support mobile network operators in providing these hybrid networks,” said Stretton. 

“In remote places in the Highlands for example you can’t get a clear line of sight for microwave links and it is not cost effective to dig up the roads to put in fibre in order to service a small community, so using satellites is the answer. We can also work with colleagues in the transport industry to support them in putting satellite communication onto planes and trains. The UK benefits because we build that capability and expertise within the UK and we need to stay ahead of this technology. These kind of initiatives give us the ability to still be major players in technology on the world stage.

“We can join the dots between the very niche areas of space and the broader usage of satellites and that is what has been recognised by ESA and the UK Space Agency.”
Antonio Franchi, Manager of 5G activities at ESA says: “ESA appreciates and is supportive of the initiative, since Space for 5G is the new ESA strategic programme line in the ARTES programme,  fostering the convergence of networks for seamless connectivity, which supports industry to develop space technology and services for downstream businesses.”

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A healthy outlook for the future of satellite 5G

SPACE technology and 5G could revolutionise health and social care in particular, according to Justene Ewing, Vice-President of Consulting Services at CGI.

“The technology is interesting but what gets me excited is how we can use it to make life considerably better for all people,” she said.

“Paramedics, GPs and care workers might be able to have the types of technology that we probably can’t imagine at the moment. It is a huge opportunity and we are already seeing some instances where ambulances are playing with 5G and what they can do with it.”

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One way it could be used is to enable paramedics to become data-enabled emergency workers operating in virtual consulting rooms and moving around in connected vehicles.

It is estimated that in the UK alone by providing better integrated data and supporting improved clinical decision making to provide appropriate on-the-spot treatment, up to 40% of patient journeys to hospital could be avoided, resulting in a significant reduction in operational costs for the NHS and a significant increase in quality of the overall patient experience.

“Paramedics are already immensely skilled but this could help for example in a multiple road traffic accident where they are trying to work out how to triage particularly complex injuries,” said Ewing. 

“They could not only have the benefit of the advice of a specialist consultant through a steady connection but also have immediate access to data about the person’s medical history and whether they have any complex needs or long term conditions.

“They would have all the different clinical information plus the ability to share exactly what they are seeing with an experienced professional who can provide real live time advice and guidance to make sure the patient has the best possible chance of survival during transfer to hospital.”

The technology could also transform life for older people by making it possible for them to live independently for longer.

“If you are living in a smart home with lots of intelligent sensors, it will be possible to see how someone is doing in nanoseconds,” said Ewing. “An alert could be sent out if there has been no movement, for example, or if someone is doing particularly well on a given day, they might not need or want a care visit so the system could dynamically schedule a visit to the person that needs it most. 

“Some people’s lives revolve round their care package rather than them being able to live their life the way they want it. This is not about withdrawing care or withdrawing services, but is about putting that person first and allowing them to live the best possible life they can, whilst creating more capacity for the professionals to give more and higher quality of care.  

“I know that as I age, I will want to be as independent as I can be, to live my life in the way I will want to, and get the help I need when I need it rather than when the schedule says so. I am sure most people would want that quality of life.”

She pointed out that it was not a Big Brother type system where someone would be watching all the time, quite the opposite it will monitor data and then provide an alert in the system when necessary. 

“It will help provide a wee bit more time for people who don’t want to go into a care home and want to live their best life for as long as they can independently and that cannot be a bad thing,” said Ewing. 

  • This article was brought to you in association with CGI as part of The Herald's STEM campaign