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Intelligence Brief: Assessing latest developments in 6G and healthcare

Last month, we kicked off our new monthly blog series to explore recent announcements and trends in the telecom industry. We look at what is happening in the industry, how it is impacting operators and why it is important, based on curated news from our Industry Feed [1].

Recent weeks have brought announcements on cloud platform deals, operators deploying new 5G use cases, 6G-related announcements and updates on private network deals and deployments.

Against this backdrop, we selected 6G and digital healthcare to take a deeper look at.

6G: Is the clock ticking?
Do you know that…Recently, we have seen an increasing buzz in the industry around 6G, also referred to as beyond 5G.

Be it the launch of Next G Alliance [2] in Q4 2020 or of what China claimed to be the first compatible satellite [3], 6G is clearly on the radar of industry. Developments like China claiming domestic companies account for about 35 per cent of related patent applications and the establishment of vision group within the ITU-R to define key capabilities of 6G, are some of the contributors to propelling the industry to announce plans.

What might you have missed?

The U.S and Japan joined forces to invest $4.5 billion in R&D, testing and deployment of secure networks for the next generation of communications.
Germany’s government earmarked up to €700 million ($855 million) for 6G research by 2025. The initial investment of €200 million will be injected to create research hubs which will work towards preparing the next generation of communications by coordinating activities and working with other international bodies.
Huawei, at its global analyst conference, announced plans to launch 6G equipment in 2030. Reportedly, Huawei is also planning to launch two test satellites in July to explore the technology
The Next G alliance announced the formation of working groups and the launch of its technical program. The National 6G roadmap working group is the key group and will address the full lifecycle of commercialisation.

So what?
Where our figures show 5G connections accounted for only 4.21 per cent of global connections by the end of Q1 2021, the recent announcements and initiatives on 6G leave many people pondering if now is the right time for the clock to start moving or if the focus should remain on 5G.

We know commercial mobile 5G networks only saw the light of the day in 2019 and have a long way to go to reach their full potential, from exploring digital innovations enabled across various sectors to the deployment of pending standards from 3GPP Release 17.

But, what also can’t be ignored is that we must start defining the 6G roadmap in the near-term. Some might argue the technology is still in a nascent stage pending even the industrial definition and any focus right now will disturb the growth of 5G. However, as 6G is expected to be deployed commercially by 2030, planning needs to get underway now to support the commercial deployment within this timeframe. This includes discussions on spectrum requirements, defining standards, et cetera. And, in the here and now, it includes looking for ways to integrate would-be 6G innovations into 5G networks.

Digital healthcare: how far from reality and what is the role of operators?
Do you know that…Sources state the global digital healthcare market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25 per cent between 2019 and 2025. The adoption of digital practices in healthcare (telehealth, remote monitoring devices) began years ago, but Covid-19 (coronavirus) accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare by exposing the challenges in conventional systems.

Operators are rapidly progressing in the digital healthcare space with partnerships, mergers and acquisitions. In a few such partnership announcements recently:

AT&T and Cherish Health partnered to help monitor Covid-19 patients. A wearable biosensor device from Cherish Health capable of monitoring patient’s oxygen levels, temperature and heart rate is powered by the First Net network built by AT&T.
LifeLabs teamed with Telus Health to offers its MyCareCompass customers virtual counselling through the Babylon app from Telus Health.
T-Mobile US and Zyter collaborated to make virtual healthcare accessible to more people. Zyter will use the network footprint of T-Mobile to bring patients and healthcare professionals closer remotely.
Airtel India joined with Apollo 24/7 to offer customers of its Airtel Thanks rewards programme customers virtual healthcare services.

So what?
Digital healthcare opportunities have been on operators’ radar for quite some time now. Years ago, it began with M2M-enabled glucose and blood pressure monitoring devices where data could then be accessed by healthcare professionals on a cloud platform. Fast forward to 2020, the strain caused by the pandemic on healthcare infrastructure and the need to stay-at-home gave a push to digital healthcare solutions including telehealth consultations, and virtual care platforms and pharmacies.



What’s at play for mobile operators?
A GSMA Intelligence survey of operators in 2020 found healthcare was among the top verticals deemed as an opportunity in the 5G era to boost revenue beyond connectivity (see chart, above, click to enlarge).

Predicted use cases including remote surgery are still a work in progress, but the availability of 5G in 59 countries has put long-awaited digital healthcare initiatives on a fast track to success. Riding on the back of these partnerships, operators are well on their journey to play a key role in the digital transformation of healthcare.

The sector offers multiple opportunities for operators including connectivity, private network deployments, cloud storage, data analytics, developing virtual platforms, remote screening and diagnostics.

It would not be premature to say digital healthcare is moving further in the direction of reality and that operators are busy carving out their space in the new system. Telus Health sets a good example in this regard, as health services accounted for approximately 3.5 per cent of its total revenue in Q1 2021.

All the above analysis is based on news curated by GSMA Intelligence’s team of analysts and taken from their Industry Updates feed, available here [5].

– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, strategy, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


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