Current Affairs (3rd June 2021)
World getting closer to Internet from the skies
- Following the successful launch of 36 satellites, OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation reached 218 in-orbit satellites.
- The company only has one more launch to complete before it obtains the capacity to enable its ‘Five to 50’ service of offering internet connectivity to all regions north of 50 degrees latitude.
- The Five to 50 service is expected to be switched on by June 2021 with global services powered by 648 satellites available in 2022.
- It is a global communications company that aims to deliver broadband satellite Internet around the world through its fleet of LEO satellites.
- In 2010, the company declared bankruptcy but was able to resume operations following an inflow of investment from a consortium consisting of the UK Government, Hughes Communication, Bharti Global Limited, SoftBank and Eutelsat, a leading European satellite operator.
- OneWeb satellites are built at a OneWeb and Airbus joint venture facility in Florida that can produce up to two satellites a day.
- The launch roll-out of the satellites is facilitated by French company Arianespace using Russian made Soyuz rockets. The company has announced plans to enter the Indian market by 2022.
- LEO satellites have been orbiting the planet since the 1990s, providing companies and individuals with various communication services.
- LEO satellites are positioned around 500 km-2000 km from earth, compared to stationary orbit satellites which are approximately 36,000 km away. Latency, or the time needed for data to be sent and received, is contingent on proximity.
- As LEO satellites orbit closer to the earth, they can provide stronger signals and faster speeds than traditional fixed-satellite systems.
- As signals travel faster through space than through fibre-optic cables, they also have the potential to rival if not exceed existing ground-based networks.
- Individual satellites can only make direct contact with a land transmitter for a short period of time thus requiring massive LEO satellite fleets and consequently, a significant capital investment.
- Due to these costs, of the three mediums of Internet – fibre, spectrum and satellite – the latter is the most expensive.
- In line with that assessment, LEO satellite broadband is only preferable in areas that cannot be reached by fibre and spectrum services. OneWeb’s target market will therefore be rural populations and military units operating away from urban areas.
Criticisms of LEO satellites
- During the days of the Sputnik and Apollo missions, governments dominated and regulated space-based activities. However, today, the balance of power has shifted from countries to companies.
- Euroconsult, a leading satellite consultancy firm, estimates that 1,250 satellites will be launched annually this decade, with 70% of them for commercial purposes.
- Even government entities like the US Department of Defence have turned to private providers, entering into a contract to buy satellites from SpaceX.
- As a result, there are questions related to who regulates these companies, especially given the myriad of nations that contribute to individual projects.
- There are logistical challenges with launching thousands of satellites into space as well. Satellites can sometimes be seen in the night skies which creates difficulties for astronomers as the satellites reflect sunlight to earth, leaving streaks across images.
- Satellites travelling at a lower orbit can also interrupt the frequency of those orbiting above them, an accusation that has been levelled against Starlink satellites already.
- There are already almost 1 million objects larger than 1 cm in diameter in orbit, a byproduct of decades of space activities. Those objects, colloquially referred to as ‘space junk,’ have the potential to damage spacecrafts or collide with other satellites.
Indian satellite internet market
- The acquisition of OneWeb by Bharati Limited could give it a distinct advantage in India and parts of Africa, in which another Bharati company, Airtel, already has a significant presence.
- Currently, Starlink and OneWeb aim to launch in India by 2022, with Amazon’s Project Kuiper also in talks to receive regulatory approval to operate in the country.
- Over 70% of rural Indians do not have access to the Internet, as there is an increasing need for digital integration in the fields of education and banking considering the pandemic.
- However, while companies like OneWeb and Starlink have marketed themselves to rural Indian consumers, given their price points (and expected price points in the case of OneWeb,) it is unlikely that most rural Indians will be able to afford their services.
- Additionally, according to the ADB report referenced earlier, “telecom operators are already challenging the expected market entry of NGSO (LEO) satellites,” fearing that they could cut into their profits.
- Barriers to entry and elevated prices will make it difficult for satellite broadband companies to operate in India in the short term but according to several estimates, they will eventually become a major player in the industry.
H10N3 bird flu
- According to Beijing’s National Health Commission (NHC), a 41-year-old man in China’s eastern province of Jiangsu has been confirmed as the first human case of infection with a rare strain of bird flu known as H10N3.
About H10N3 bird flu:
- H10N3 is a type of bird flu or avian flu. These illnesses are common in wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.
- Infected birds shed avian flu in their saliva, mucus, and poop, and humans can get infected when enough of the virus gets in the eyes, nose, or mouth, or is inhaled from infected droplets or dust.
Is it a cause for concern?
- Health authorities have played down the outbreak, saying the case was a sporadic virus transmission from poultry to humans, and the risk of causing a pandemic was extremely low.
- H10N3 is a low pathogenic or relatively less severe strain of the virus in poultry and the risk of it spreading on a large scale is very low.
- People should avoid contact with sick or dead poultry and avoid direct contact with live birds as much as possible.
- People must pay attention to food hygiene now.
- People should wear masks and improve self-protection awareness, while constantly monitoring fever and respiratory symptoms.
- Several strains of bird flu have been found among animals in China but mass outbreaks in humans are rare.
- The last human epidemic of bird flu in China occurred in late 2016 to 2017, with the H7N9 virus.
- H5N8 is a subtype of the Influenza A virus (also known as the bird flu virus). While H5N8 only presents a low risk to humans, it is highly lethal to wild birds and poultry.
- In April, a highly pathogenic H5N6 avian flu was found in wild birds in northeast China’s Shenyang city.
- Influenza viruses are classified into subtypes based on two surface proteins, Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA). For example, a virus that has an HA 7 protein and NA 9 protein is designated as subtype H7N9.
5G and its radiation
- Recently, an actor Juhi Chawla has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against the telecom technology upgradation, trial runs for which have started in India now.
- 5G ‘radiation’ emission will be “extremely harmful and injurious to the health and safety of the people”.
- She is not “against the implementation of technological advancements,” but added that while using wireless devices one is “in a constant dilemma” about “RF radiation from wirefree gadgets and network cell towers”.
5G technology and roll out in India:
- 5G promises to revolutionise mobile broadband and is a big generational leap over the existing 4G technology.
- This new technology will be capable of not just ensuring fast internet on our phones, but also help power IoT (Internet of Things) networks to run connected cars and homes smarter.
- It will also support streaming of rich media.
- But 5G has not yet been rolled out in India though Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea have been given trial spectrum to test 5G technology in the country.
- Once this is over, it is expected that networks will go live with the 5G bands by the end of this year. The 5G rollout is expected to gather pace in the country by 2022.
Impact of 5G radiation on human health:
- More powerful 5G waves will emit more radiation and cause harm to humans as well as other living beings.
- 5G will require more towers to ensure better connectivity, and since it will power more than just our smartphones, it will increase human exposure to such radiation in general.
- This is an extension of the idea that cellular towers, which emit low-level RF-EMF radiation, are in general damaging our bodies. But radiation from cellphone towers, mobile phones, WiFi routers is typically called non-ionising radiation like radio waves, microwaves, and optical radiation.
- RF fields have been classified by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).
- Radiation at very high levels, also referred to as ionising radiation, heats up our tissue and can eventually lead to cancer.
- This applies to medical devices such as a CT-scan machine or X-ray machine, which emit high-level ionising radiation.
- Doctors don’t recommend that you go get a CT-scan for every health issue because it does increase unnecessary exposure to radiation.
- But there are increasing concerns that our smartphones, other WiFi-ready devices such as laptops, and mobile phone towers which also emit low level RF radiation are damaging our bodies given the constant exposure.