With the rollout of 5G, the telecoms industry could coordinate the development of early warning systems to mitigate the impact of pollution, wildfires, floods, infectious diseases and other threats.
Telecoms networks can support public safety
In the wake of the pandemic and multiple natural disasters, such as fire and flooding, both policymakers and people in general are placing a greater focus on preserving health and ensuring public safety. This report begins by explaining the concept of a digital nervous system – large numbers of connected sensors that can monitor events in real-time and thereby alert organizations and individuals to imminent threats to their health and safety.
With the advent of 5G, STL Partners believes telcos have a broad opportunity to help coordinate better use of the world’s resources and assets, as outlined in the report: The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms. The application of reliable and ubiquitous connectivity to enable governments, companies and individuals to live in a safer world is one way in which operators can contribute to the Coordination Age.
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The chapters in this report consider the potential to use the data collected by telecoms networks to help counter the health and safety threats posed by:
- Environmental factors, such as air pollution and high-levels of pollen,
- Natural disasters, such as wildfires, flooding and earthquakes,
- Infectious diseases
- Violence, such as riots and shooting incidents
- Accidents on roads, rivers and coastlines
In each case, the report considers how to harness new data collected by connected sensors, cameras and other monitors, in addition to data already captured by mobile networks (showing where people are and where they are moving to). It also identifies who telcos will need to work with to develop and deploy such solutions, while discussing potential revenue streams. In most cases, the report includes short case studies describing how telcos are trialling or deploying actual solutions, generally in partnership with other stakeholders.
The final chapter focuses on the role of telcos – the assets and the capabilities they have to improve health and safety.
It builds on previous STL Partners research including:
- Growing B2B2X: Taking telcos beyond connectivity and 5G
- A new role for telcos in smart cities
- Telco 2030: New purpose, strategy and business models for the Coordination Age
Managing an unstable world
Prior to the damage wrought by the pandemic, the world was gradually becoming a safer place for human beings. Global life expectancy has been rising steadily for many decades and the UN expects that trend to continue, albeit at a slower pace. That implies the world is safer than it was in the twentieth century and people are healthier than they used to be.
Global gains in life expectancy are slowing down
But a succession of pandemics, more extreme weather events and rising pollution may yet reverse these positive trends. Indeed, many people now feel that they live in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. Air pollution and over-crowding are worsening the health impact of respiratory conditions and infections, such as SARS-CoV-2. As climate change accelerates, experts expect an increase in flash flooding, wildfires, drought and intense heat. As extreme weather impacts the food and water supplies, civil unrest and even armed conflict could follow. In the modern world, the four horsemen of the apocalypse might symbolize infectious disease, extreme weather, pollution and violence.
As the human race grapples with these challenges, there is growing interest in services and technologies that could make the world a safer and healthier place. That demand is apparent among both individuals (hence the strong sales of wearable fitness monitors) and among public sector bodies’ rising interest in environment and crowd monitoring solutions.
As prevention is better than cure, both citizens and organisations are looking for early warning systems that can help them prepare for threats and take mitigating actions. For example, an individual with an underlying health condition could benefit from a service that warns them when they are approaching an area with poor air quality or large numbers of densely-packed people. Similarly, a municipality would welcome a solution that alerts them when large numbers of people are gathering in a public space or drains are close to being blocked or are overflowing. The development of these kinds of early warning systems would involve tracking both events and people in real-time to detect patterns that signal a potential hazard or disruption, such as a riot or flooding.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), as well as the falling cost of cameras and other sensors, together with the rollout of increasingly dense telecoms networks, could make such systems viable. For example, a camera mounted on a lamppost could use image and audio recognition technologies to detect when a crowd is gathering in the locality, a gun has been fired, a drain has been flooded or an accident has occurred.
Many connected sensors and cameras, of course, won’t be in a fixed location – they will be attached to drones, vehicles and even bicycles, to support use cases where mobility will enhance the service. Such uses cases could include air quality monitoring, wildfire and flooding surveillance, and search and rescue.
Marty Sprinzen, CEO of Vantiq (a provider of event-driven, real-time collaborative applications) believes telecoms companies are best positioned to create a “global digital nervous system” as they have the networks and managed service capabilities to scale these applications for broad deployment. “Secure and reliable connectivity and networking (increasingly on ultrafast 5G networks) are just the beginning in terms of the value telcos can bring,” he wrote in an article for Forbes, published in November 2020. “They can lead on the provisioning and management of the literally billions of IoT devices — cameras, wearables and sensors of all types — that are integral to real-time systems. They can aggregate and analyze the massive amount of data that these systems generate and share insights with their customers. And they can bring together the software providers and integrators and various other parties that will be necessary to build, maintain and run such sophisticated systems.”
Sprinzen regards multi-access edge computing, or MEC, as the key to unlocking this market. He describes MEC as a new, distributed architecture that pushes compute and cloud-like capabilities out of data centres and the cloud to the edge of the network — closer to end-users and billions of IoT devices. This enables the filtering and processing of data at the edge in near real-time, to enable a rapid response to critical events.
This kind of digital nervous system could help curb the adverse impact of future pandemics. “I believe smart building applications will help companies monitor for and manage symptom detection, physical distancing, contact tracing, access management, safety compliance and asset tracking in the workplace,” Sprinzen wrote. “Real-time traffic monitoring will ease urban congestion and reduce the number and severity of accidents. Monitoring and management of water supplies, electrical grids and public transportation will safeguard us against equipment failures or attacks by bad actors. Environmental applications will provide early warnings of floods or wildfires. Food distribution and waste management applications will help us make more of our precious resources.”
Vantiq says one if its telco customers is implementing AI-enabled cameras, IoT sensors, location data and other technologies to monitor various aspects of its new headquarters building. He didn’t identify the telco, but added that it is the lead technology partner for a city that’s implementing a spectrum of smart city solutions to improve mobility, reduce congestion and strengthen disaster prevention.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- Managing an unstable world
- Monitoring air quality
- Exploiting existing cellular infrastructure
- Is mobile network data enough?
- Smart lampposts to play a broad role
- The economics of connecting environmental sensors
- Sensors in the sky
- Natural disasters
- Spotting wildfires early
- Earthquake alert systems
- Crowdsourcing data
- Infectious diseases
- On street security
- Conclusions – the opportunities for telcos
- Ecosystem coordination – kickstarting the market
- Devices – finding the right locations
- Network – reliable, low cost connectivity
- Data platform
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