May 2021 in telecoms: What news should be on your radar?

Curated: GSMA Intelligence takes on 6G and Digital 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 telcos, and WHY it is important.

The insights are based on our Industry Feed, one of the most complete repositories of mobile news in the market, curated daily by our team of experts.

In the last couple of weeks, we saw announcements on cloud platform deals, operators deploying new 5G use cases, 6G related announcements, as well as updates on private networks deals and deployments. Against this backdrop, we selected two topics – 6G and Digital Healthcare – to take a deeper look at. 6G is hot off the shelf and Digital Healthcare is the need of the hour.

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 in Q4 2020 or the launch of the “first 6G satellite” by China in the same quarter, 6G is clearly on the radar of industry. Developments like China claiming that Chinese companies account for about 35% of the 6G related patent applications, and the establishment of 6G vision group within the ITU-R to define key capabilities of 6G, are some of the contributors in propelling the industry to announce their 6G plans. What might you have missed?

  • The U.S and Japan have joined forces to invest USD 4.5 billion in R&D, testing and deployment of secure networks for the next generation of communications (6G)
  • The German government has earmarked up to EUR 700 million to pump into 6G research by 2025. The initial investment of EUR 200 million will be injected to create 6G research hubs that will work towards preparing the next generation of communications by co-ordinating activities and working with other international bodies
  • Huawei, at the company’s global analyst conference, announced plans to launch 6G equipment in 2030. Reportedly, Huawei is also planning to launch two test satellites in July this year to explore 6G technology
  • 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 6G commercialization

So what?

Where 5G connections accounted for only 4.21% of global connections by the end of Q1 2021 (Source: GSMA Intelligence), the recent announcements and initiatives on 6G leave many people pondering if now is the right time for the 6G clock to start ticking, or should we still be focusing on 5G. We know that commercial mobile 5G networks only saw the light of the day two years back in 2019 and they have a long way to go to reach their full potential; from exploring digital innovations supported by 5G 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 that 6G is still in a nascent stage pending even the industrial definition and any focus on 6G 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 6G standards, etc. 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 telecom operators?

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The global digital healthcare market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25% from 2019-2025. The adoption of digital practices in the healthcare (telehealth, remote monitoring devices) began years ago, but COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare by exposing the challenges in conventional healthcare systems. Telcos, for their part, are rapidly progressing in the digital healthcare space with partnerships/M&A in the ecosystem. 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 the oxygen levels, temperature and heart rate of a patient is powered by the First Net network built by AT&T.
  • LifeLabs teamed up with TELUS Health to offers its MyCareCompass customers virtual counselling through the Babylon app from Telus Health.
  • T-Mobile – U.S.A and Zyter have collaborated to make virtual healthcare accessible to more people. Zyter will leverage the network footprint of T-Mobile to bring patients and healthcare professionals closer remotely.
  • Airtel – India joined hands with Apollo 24/7 to offer its Airtel Thanks customers virtual healthcare services (Airtel Thanks is an exclusive rewards program for valued Airtel customers which gives them access to a host of exclusive rewards, perks & privileges).

So what?

Digital healthcare opportunities have been on the radar of operators 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 infrastructures and the need to stay-at-home gave a push to digital healthcare solutions like telehealth consultations, virtual care platforms and virtual pharmacies.

What’s at play for mobile operators? According to a GSMA Intelligence’s survey of operators in 2020, healthcare was among the top verticals deemed by operators as an opportunity in the 5G era to boost their revenues “beyond connectivity”. Predicted use cases of 5G like remote surgery are still a work in progress, but the availability of 5G already in 59 countries has put the 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. Healthcare in a majority of the economies is big enough – and is only growing with situations like pandemic – to offer multiple opportunities to operators across the value chain such as connectivity providers, private network deployments, cloud storage, data analytics, developing virtual platforms, remote screening and diagnostics.

It would not be premature to say that Digital Healthcare is moving further in the direction of reality and that operators are busy carving out their space in the new healthcare system. TELUS Health sets a good example in this regard, the revenue from health services accounted for approx. 3.5% of total revenues (Fixed + Mobile + Broadband + Health) in Q1 2021.

Finally, do you know that…

All of the above analysis is based on news curated by our team of analysts, and taken from our Industry Updates feed. Visit our feed today for more of the news shaping the mobile industry of tomorrow. It comes without interference!

By Radhika Gupta, Head of Data Acquisition at GSMA Intelligence