Always, everywhere, internet from space

The future of digital health is connected in space

Lucien Engelen

Director of REshape

Last week I had an interview for a government-issued research on connectivity in the digital age. Great questions and discussions about where connectivity – as in the smartphone – would be heading in the next say 10 years.

So we talked about 5G networks, Wifi and how mobile connectivity could change and what would be needed for my field; health. A really great discussion on all the topics you can imagine.

Asked about mHealth I argued that mHealth and also eHealth are virtual silo’s that we keep creating, while these things just blend. We discussed if in the researcher’s terminology someone who uses his home based wifi in his own home with his cellphone, would then to be considered using mHealth. Next in my opinion mHealth and eHealth are ‘just’ ways to deliver health(care) to people in need for it. That’s why I rather talk about ‘digital health’ because it really should be part of our regular health care model, and not be added at the outer-side of it, as I often see happening nowadays. This not only is driving costs up but also brings in new interoperability challenges.

We tried to picture the impact on connectivity and bandwidth for the amount of data coming up in the medical field. Smartphones, Smart Watches, connected glucose contact lenses, and patches that measure your vitals amongst others continuously are at the doorstep. In an era where the patient soon will generate more data him/herself than the professionals, measuring more and more metrics like heart rate, number of steps etc, I really think this will explode.

So maybe more cell-towers with bigger bandwidth seemed to be the most used conclusion.

When are we going to talk about space-based internet?

When I noticed the interviewers were going to wrap up I asked “when are we going to talk about space-based internet?”

While this was not only not on their list, it also invoked a sort of an uncomfortable situation and even a bit of laughter. The reply was ‘not really, this is a long way ahead of us, right’, I was flabbergasted. Trying to forecast the future of digital connectivity, and not taking the current developments of Google, Facebook, Elon Musk, OneWeb and others into account, to me was a missed opportunity.

Let’s face it, the recent explosion on initiatives that claim to be operational ultimate 2020 are to be taken serious. Even although one of the first satellites was lost in the recent explosion of a Space-X rocket.

To me this development is bringing great opportunities for health, having savvy internet, especially in rural areas where it makes the most sense to use digital health, is a must. With internet coverage on every inch of the world, just imagine the impact on global health, when 3–5 billion (with a B) people will come online in the next 10 years. With more and more delocalization of healthcare by new technology to do things remotely, this is a huge chance.

Have a look at my slides from the Singularity University Exponential Medicine conference in San Diego on this.

One step further we could even discuss the future of the current telecom operators in a world that is always, everywhere connected. Already in my life the number of whatsapp phone calls very soon will surpass the number of regular calls in a day. Sure enough this at the start will be very very expensive. Like satellite phones-calls were, or the first mobile phones. But in very soon, since there is a ‘space-war’ going on in spaces based internet, prices will drop, as also the number of people you can sell a bundle of internet to triples with the current numbers.

As for the research; I do hope they will urge the government to take ‘always-everywhere internet from space’ as a certainty.