New 5G maritime network: Seafarers can have drones deliver medicine at sea after teleconsultation

A drone using M1’s 5G network delivering a package containing medicine onto a boat anchored off St John’s Island, on April 26, 2023. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Seafarers who fall sick can soon have medicine flown to them by drones.

They can also do video consultation with a doctor instead of being ferried to shore.

This service will be launched in July as a partnership between telecommunications firm M1 and Fullerton Health, and is aimed at those who work at shipping companies in Singapore.

The use of drones and smooth video calls at sea are enabled by M1’s 5G maritime network which was launched on Wednesday at St John’s Island, with a network radius of at least 15km. Two other similar stations on Bukom Island and Raffles Lighthouse will be deployed later in 2023, and another nine stations by 2025 to cover the waters off Singapore’s southern coast.

The teleconsultation service will reduce the time that sick seafarers have to wait to receive medical attention, as well as the logistical burden of sending a patient to the mainland unless it is an emergency, said Fullerton Health country manager Walter Lim at the launch of the network.

The deployment of boats to ferry patients to the shore is understood to cost anywhere between $300 and $600 per trip.

Dr Lim told The Straits Times: “When seafarers are sick, it is still common to consult doctors over the phone or through e-mail. Video conferencing is not widely available because of the cost of connectivity.

“But with a 5G network, there’s no lag and the image is sharper, which will give the doctor a clearer picture of what is happening. With this, the doctor can make an informed decision on whether the patient should go to the clinic, or if a drone should be sent out to deliver medicine.”

Within three hours of a consultation, sick workers can receive medicine for non-urgent conditions, such as an upset stomach and minor respiratory symptoms or wounds, without requiring the boat to dock inland, he said.

Fullerton Health receives up to five calls weekly for medical consultation from sea, said Dr Lim, adding that at least 15 doctors from the healthcare chain will be on standby for consultations via the LiveFuller app.

A demonstration of a telemedicine consultation via a digital tablet using M1’s 5G network on a boat anchored off St John’s Island, on April 26, 2023. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Said to be the first of its kind, the maritime 5G network has been in the works since 2019, in a partnership between the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and M1.

This also means that any M1 user out at sea will be able to tap its stronger network speeds.

5G, which is roughly 10 times faster than 4G, enables unmanned vehicles, including aircraft and ships, to operate safely, thanks to less lag and a better signal. It also provides more precise real-time location data than satellite technology.

M1 also launched a slate of new 5G services for clients on ships, including maritime surveillance for onboard security. Vessels can set up real-time camera systems to receive seamless video footage which can be streamed inland with little delay, replacing legacy systems on older ships that require the sharing of memory cards to access surveillance footage, said an M1 spokesman.

A demonstration of a video camera surveillance system using M1’s 5G network on a boat anchored off St John’s Island, on April 26, 2023. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

For a fee, workers can also receive smart wearables that monitor their health and whereabouts so that boat operators will know where they are and if they are safe while at sea.

These services are among the early use cases of 5G at sea, and M1 is working with industry players to find new ways that the network can be used, said M1 chief executive Manjot Singh Mann.

This is the latest among 5G projects slated to be launched in 2023, including unmanned electric vessels that by August will be used to clean and inspect rivers. At least 100 5G-enabled robots will be deployed on the factory floor of the upcoming Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre in Singapore to transport materials for electric vehicles in production.

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