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5G: A new stage in civilization development amid global competition

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The format of the next-generation cellular networks, which is commonly known as 5G, is considered by a vast majority of experts as one of the “key technologies in the decades to come.” It is seen as a major element in ensuring the leading positions of a country at a new stage of the race for the most favorable national development status. What are the political features of this phase of technology rivalry?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) plans to approve the final version of the 5G standard by early next year. However, experts throughout the globe have been developing the “general principles and properties” of the fifth-generation cellular communication technologies for more than five years. The current fourth-generation technology guarantees maximum data transfer rate at about 150 Mbit/s. 5G promises speeds of more than 1 Gbit / s. By the middle of this year, “China, South Korea, Japan, and most EU countries had chosen the frequency spectrum that will be used in fifth-generation networks.” A heated debate has been under way in the United States, which has already held several frequency auctions for 5G .According to Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov, who oversees the development of digital technologies in the Russian Federation, the launch of 5G is “a matter of survival if we do not want to lose technological leadership”.

Experts have no doubt that the fifth generation mobile networks will lead to “drastic changes” in many areas of life. While the present-day cellular communication standards are designed to exchange voice traffic and exchanges between terminal communication devices, the 5G technology is intended to create an environment in which billions of different devices interact with each other in real time. Moreover, the speed and reliability of connection should boost many times. The 5G environment should become a kind of communicative digital “ocean” into which an overwhelming majority of people and economic entities will plunge in the coming decades. This will fundamentally change the industry, global supply chains, defense tecnology, agriculture, transport, medicine, approaches to managing national infrastructure, and in general, the quality of life of billions of people, by becoming part and parcel of everyday life.

One of the most promising and at the same time, conflicting areas, which will, undoubtedly, get good impetus following the introduction of 5G, will be the so-called “Internet of Things”. Microchips will be installed in almost all industrial and consumer products, transmitting all kinds of information and capable of receiving control commands from the outside. Critics fear that the world is moving in the direction of “surveillance capitalism”. The government and business are to address many issues, The Economist points out, including digital ownership, big data, surveillance, competition monitoring, and security. The  standards of receiving, transmitting, processing and storing data promise to become a battlefield of both private companies and government organizations . Those who will control their development and implementation will enjoy  significant, if not crucial, advantages.

“When an invention becomes part of infrastructure, it also becomes part of political relations and undergoes both engineering and political changes”. Therefore, the main political battles are currently unfolding over the choice of frequency bands for building 5G networks, and over the suppliers. Pessimists, including in Russia, fear that, in case of the worst scenario, the priorities of maintaining sovereignty and security may lead to further fragmentation of not only the Internet, but also the cellular communications space. Differences in the frequency bands used for the development of 5G networks may cause conflicts between telecom operators and refusals to conclude agreements on international roaming. According to optimists,  in the absence of universally approved 5G standards, manufacturers of client equipment, from terminals to smart phones, are forced to envisage the possibility of operating in the widest possible frequency range.

At present, the observer attention is focused on two conflicting approaches to the implementation of 5G technologies, the American one, on the one hand, and the Chinese one, on the other. US President Donald Trump regularly makes high-profile statements about the need to ensure America’s top position in promoting 5G technologies. Trump has come out strongly against the purchase of Chinese-made 5G technologies by the United States. Washington is urging other countries to refrain from doing so as well. Otherwise, it said it may wrap up cooperation with its close allies in the field of telecommunications, including the exchange of intelligence data. Given the situation, the US government agencies that deal with technology development have, on the one hand, already managed to distribute the bulk of frequency modulations for the introduction of 5G, compared to other countries. On the other hand, Leonid Kovachich of the Carnegie Moscow Center says, “the United States is working to create networks in the ultra-high frequency range.” Such frequencies – above 6 GHz, provide  “the most tangible capacity growth against the existing ones.” However, due to specific technological  characteristics, they require an extremely high density of transceiver infrastructure. Thus, America has picked the most expensive option, which, according to critics, including specialists from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is “extremely prodigal”. In addition, this approach “will further accentuate the technological and, as a result, social gap between large cities and sparsely populated regions in the United States”, and will also significantly weaken the ability of American cellular manufacturers and mobile operators to successfully compete with China in other countries of the world.

China’s authorities have been trying to follow major global trends, including the choice of frequencies for 5G. Meanwhile, as experts at Oxford Information Labs claim, China is operating in several areas at once, for the purpose of at least significantly downsizing the competitive edge of Western companies in implementing 5G projects. The Chinese companies are stimulated by the fact that they already control “more than a third of all 5G patents in the world” and also a fairly limited number of potential developers and manufacturers of 5G technology. The West suspects official Beijing of striving to create a de facto corporate-technological “vertical”, with non-governmental organizations pursuing a policywhich is determined by the country’s political and military leadership. What speaks of such a policy is the pragmatic readiness of the Chinese authorities to provide substantial government loans and subsidies for an early launch of domestically developed technologies, including abroad, through resorting to political, diplomatic, financial and economic influence amidst the international community.

Amid the growing confrontation between the United States and China, European countries voice different views. The German government, Die Zeit wrote in November, still expresses its readiness to “use the key technology of the coming decades – data transmission through the new 5G standard – using the technology of the Chinese company Huawei.” However, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, such an approach “is naive.” Macron is convinced that the infrastructure of the future, which is represented by 5G, should consolidate the sovereignty of Europe, not weaken it. What is meant is data security, without which, Europeans say, it makes no sense to talk about security policy asn such. In his opinion, “it is necessary to abandon” the Chinese-manufactured technologies “in favor of European analogues”.

Russia is balancing between fears of alarmists over the “cumbersome nature” of regulators and controllers that “jeopardize” the country’s technological development under the pretext of concern “for national security”, on the one hand, and on the other, the belief of optimists who remind them that the 4G and LTE standards of cellular communication were introduced in a similarly protracted and “bureaucratic” way. A number of representatives of the Russian telecommunications industry have expressed concern that “transition to unconventional frequencies or even an isolated Russian 5G system will delay the creation of modern networks for 5-7 years”. Their opponents are confident that domestic operators will need a few more years to launch 5G networks that cover vast areas. “There are no economic scenarios for 5G yet, no one in the world knows how to earn money on such networks, the existing networks all but prove this in practice. It makes no sense to strive to launch 5G networks at any cost. Just as there is no need to clear the frequencies now – nobody will use them ”.

Whatever the case, the undisguised attempts to halt the development of Chinese high-tech companies or even ruin them which have been made by the United States in recent years “have demonstrated to most countries that independence in IT technology is crucial.” A possible scenario envisages prohibition or restriction of services, products or services provided by American companies in other countries; or at least in such a vital sector as public procurement. For many states it becomes critical to create and develop the domestic IT sector, IT services and software. All this may culminate in the “process of disintegration” of the global IT market, the division of countries into blocks and coalitions focused on “their own” manufacturers of software and their own technological standards.

The problem is to ensure sovereignty without having to face technological or informational isolation. “Information isolationism in the era of digital communication is usually a characteristic of rogue states.” While easing the burden of confronting external pressure, this approach deprives the country of the opportunity to form its own international agenda, believes Dmitry Evstafiev from the Higher School of Economics . On his part, Igor Ashmanov, CEO of Ashmanov & Partners, remarks: “Absence of information sovereignty is an absolutely toxic thing. Speaking about digital sovereignty from a technological point of view, it is necessary to underscore the importance of creating domestic technologies and companies. Borrowing something without giving it any thought is not the right thing to do. ” In his turn, Ilya Massukh, Director of the Autonomous Non-Profit Organization “ Center for Import Substitution in ICT”, says that technological development may result in the loss of identity. Consequently, nations that are striving to maintain sovereignty cannot afford to be completely dependent on foreign “suppliers of technological products”.

Russia, like most countries of the world, has yet to strike the so-called “golden middle,” which would enable it to use the advantages of the new technological reality to maximum efficiency in terms of national development. However, it should do so without turning the process of adopting new technologies into the driving force of self-isolation, which may easily reduce to zero a significant chunk of benefits supplied by the next- generation communication technologies. 

From our partner International Affairs

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How digital technology and innovation can help protect the planet

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As a thick haze descended over New Delhi last month, air quality monitors across the Indian capital began to paint a grim picture.

The smoke, fed by the seasonal burning of crops in northern India, was causing levels of the toxic particle PM 2.5 to spike, a trend residents could track in real time on the Global Environment Monitoring System for Air (GEMS Air) website.

By early November, GEMS Air showed that concentrations of PM 2.5 outside New Delhi’s iconic India Gate were ‘hazardous’ to human health. In an industrial area north of the Indian capital, the air was 50 times more polluted.

GEMS Air is one of several new digital tools used by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to track the state of the environment in real time at the global, national and local levels. In the years to come, a digital ecosystem of data platforms will be crucial to helping the world understand and combat a host of environmental hazards, from air pollution to methane emissions, say experts.

“Various private and public sector actors are harnessing data and digital technologies to accelerate global environmental action and fundamentally disrupt business as usual,” says David Jensen, the coordinator of UNEP’s digital transformation task force.

“These partnerships warrant the attention of the international community as they can contribute to systemic change at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

The world is facing what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Experts say averting those catastrophes and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will require fundamentally transforming the global economy within a decade. It’s a task that would normally take generations. But a range of data and digital technologies are sweeping the planet with the potential to promote major structural transformations that will enhance environmental sustainability, climate action, nature protection and pollution prevention.

A new age

UNEP is contributing to that charge through a new programme on Digital Transformation and by co-championing the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability as part of the Secretary-General’s Digital Cooperation Roadmap.

UNEP studies show that for 68 per cent of the environment-related Sustainable Development Goal indicators, there is not enough data to assess progress. The digital initiatives leverage technology to halt the decline of the planet and accelerate sustainable finance, products, services, and lifestyles.

GEMS air was among the first of those programmes. Run by UNEP and Swiss technology company IQAir, it is the largest air pollution network in the world, covering some 5,000 cities. In 2020, over 50 million users accessed the platform and its data is being streamed into digital billboards to alert people about air quality risks in real time. In the future, the program aims to extend this capability directly into mobile phone health applications.

Building on lessons learned from GEMS Air, UNEP has developed three other lighthouse digital platforms to showcase the power of data and digital technologies, including cloud computing, earth observation and artificial intelligence.

Managing freshwater

One is the Freshwater Ecosystem Explorer, which provides a detailed look at the state of lakes and rivers in every country on Earth.

The fruit of a partnership between UNEP, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and Google Earth Engine, it provides free and open data on permanent and seasonal surface waters, reservoirs, wetlands and mangroves.

“It is presented in a policy-friendly way so that citizens and governments can easily assess what is actually happening to the world’s freshwater resources,” says Stuart Crane, a UNEP freshwater expert. “That helps countries track their progress towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.6.”

Data can be visualized using geospatial maps with accompanying informational graphics and downloaded at national, sub-national and river basin scales. Data are updated annually and depict long-term trends as well as annual and monthly records on freshwater coverage.

Combating climate change

UNEP is also using data-driven decision making to drive deep reductions in methane emissions through the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO). Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for at least a quarter of today’s global warming.

The observatory is designed to shine a light on the origins of methane emissions by collecting data from various sources, including satellites, ground-based sensors, corporate reporting and scientific studies.

The Global Methane Assessment published by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) found that cutting human-caused methane by 45 per cent this decade would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s, and help prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.

“The International Methane Emissions Observatory supports partners and institutions working on methane emissions reduction to scale-up action to the levels needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” says Manfredi Caltagirone, a UNEP methane emissions expert.

Through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, the methane observatory works with petroleum companies to improve the accuracy and transparency of methane emissions reporting. Current member companies report assets covering over 30 per cent of oil and gas production globally. It also works with the scientific community to fund studies that provide robust, publicly available data.

Preserving nature

UNEP is also backing the United Nations Biodiversity Lab 2.0, a free, open-source platform that features data and more than 400 maps highlighting the extent of nature, the effects of climate change, and the scale of human development. Such spatial data help decision-makers put nature at the heart of sustainable development by allowing them to visualize the natural systems that hold back natural disasters, store planet-warming gasses, like carbon dioxide, and provide food and water to billions.

More than 61 countries have accessed data on the UN Biodiversity Lab as part of their national reporting to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international accord designed to safeguard wildlife and nature. Version 2.0 of the lab was launched in October 2021 as a partnership between UNDP, UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat and Impact Observatory. 

All of UNEP’s digital platforms are being federated into UNEP’s World Environment Situation Room, a digital ecosystem of data and analytics allowing users to monitor progress against key environmental Sustainable Development Goals and multi-lateral agreements at the global, regional and national levels.

“The technical ability to measure global environmental change—almost in real time—is essential for effective decision making,” says Jensen.

“It will have game-changing implications if this data can be streamed into the algorithms and platforms of the digital economy, where it can prompt users to make the personal changes so necessary to preserving the natural world and achieving net zero.”

UNEP

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Housing needs, the Internet and cyberspace at the forefront in the UK and Italy

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Modern construction methods and smart technology can revolutionise the building process and the way we live.

Population growth and demographic changes have led to a global housing shortage. According to research carried out by the Heriot-Watt University National Housing Federation and by the Homeless Charity Crisis Organisation, the UK will face a shortage of four million housing units by the end of 2031. This means that approximately 340,000 new housing units will need to be built each year. The houses built shall meet the demands of home automation and increasing environmental constraints.

Traditional building technology is unlikely to meet this demand. It is relatively expensive and too slow in fulfilling the necessary procedures and complying with all rules and regulations. Furthermore, the quality and capabilities of traditional construction methods are also limited. The only solution is modular production based on the principles of factory automation. This solution uses cordless and battery-free controls and sensors to perfectly integrate with home automation.

Modular buildings are based on a combination of construction methods called Modern Method of Construction (MMC). They include the use of panelling systems and components, such as roof and floor boxes, precast concrete foundation components, prefabricated wiring, mechanical engineering composites and innovative technologies.

With the opening of several factories, the UK has started to use the MMC to build prefabricated and fully equipped houses in modular form, which can be loaded onto trucks for transport across the country. This type of on-site assembly enables the house to be completed in days rather than months, thus reducing costs significantly. Modular buildings have become popular in Europe. In Italy, a pioneering company is the RI Group of Trepuzzi (Lecce), which is also operating in the fields of logistics and services and building health care facilities, field hospitals and public offices, which are cost-effective and quick to construct.

The impact of modular construction is expected to be significant and factories producing up to five thousand houses per year could become the best builders in the sector.

The construction standards of these new technology houses are higher than those of traditional houses. Thanks to better insulation, the electricity bill could be only half that of a traditional house.

Modular houses have kitchens and bathrooms, and are equipped with power and lighting via power cables, which are also modular, and wireless controls, in addition to the increasingly important network and telecommunications infrastructure.

Structural and modular wiring are derived from commercial electrical and industrial installations to ensure efficient and minimal electrical installation work. As technology changes, this standard installation is adaptable and offers a high degree of flexibility.

Experience in industrial and commercial construction shows that traditional fixtures are labour-intensive, rather rigid and still expensive. In contrast, on-site prefabricated modular cabling and the IDC system combined with wireless controllers and sensors can be fully installed at low cost. These are proven technologies and are moving from commercial to domestic use scenarios.

With the help of CAD support for modular cabling, all power cables are laid in the ceiling or wall space. The installation of wireless energy harvesting equipment simplifies the installation process as no switches and duct installation are required. For the first electrical fixing through the wall, the cable takes less time because there is no need to coordinate the position of the switch with the wall bolts. The level of dependency of on-site installation activities has also been reduced. Sensors, switches and wireless energy harvesting controls can be installed anywhere in the building, even in hard-to-reach areas.

After installation, the principle of energy harvesting will be used. Switches and sensors are powered by the surrounding environment and there is no need to replace old batteries and other maintenance equipment. Moreover, this flexibility and this reliability enable the system to be expanded at any time.

The modular construction technology enables it to adapt to various types of houses and meet the needs of today’s life through flexible shapes and various exterior decorations. This is not exactly the same as the old prefabricated houses, “granted” in Italy to earthquake victims who have been waiting for years for a decent, civilised home.

By providing a range of traditional and modern exterior decorative panels, the roofline can also be customised to suit local customs and architecture.

Through the combination of innovative product technology and good design, the aim of the smart home is to provide security and comfort. The usual requirement is to place the light switch and dimmer (or potentiometer) in the most convenient place. Driven by the kinetic energy collected by the switch itself, they can be placed anywhere.

They do not require wiring, but can send wireless signals to the receiver inside or near lights or DIN-rail mounts (German Institute for Standardisation). In addition, there is no need to use batteries and no need to replace them. This saves all the inconvenience and environmental risks that can be caused by replacing batteries.

Since this type of equipment has reached a wide range of applications, lighting and home entertainment will choose battery-free products. Besides controlling brightness and colour, self-powered switches can also be used to control sound systems or blinds. A key application of the smart home is the switch that can turn off/on devices that do not use traditional electricity when leaving or coming back home.

Energy harvesting technology also supports other sensor-based applications. For example, self-powered sensors can be wirelessly connected to an intruder alarm. Furthermore, by installing light-activated touch sensors on windows, lighting and heating can be turned off when no one is at home.

Another source of energy is the temperature difference between the heating radiator and the surrounding environment. For example, this energy harvesting enables a self-powered heating valve to perform heating control via a room temperature controller according to specific conditions.

From factories to offices, from multifunctional buildings to smart homes, wireless energy harvesting technology has been tested in approximately one million buildings worldwide. Most sensors, switches and other self-powered energy-harvesting devices can communicate at a distance of up to 30 metres in a building and meet the EnOcean international wireless standard, which encrypts messages below 1 GHz by sending a short message.

There are also some self-powered devices that integrate EnOcean energy harvesting technology and can communicate directly with the lights via the well-known Bluetooth or Zigbee (wireless communication standard based on the IEEE 802.15.4 specification, maintained by the ZigBee Alliance). This makes it possible to use green, battery-free switches and solar sensors to flexibly control other applications, such as LED lights or speakers.

Now that wireless sensors for energy harvesting can frame data at home, it will be a huge step forward to aggregate information and perform useful analysis. They process data through the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the path in technological development whereby, through the Internet, potentially every object of everyday life can acquire its own identity in cyberspace. As mentioned above, the IoT is based on the idea of “smart” items which are interconnected to exchange the information they possess, collect and/or process.

It also uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to keep track of living patterns and activities in modular homes. Energy analysis is an application that can currently help homeowners further reduce energy consumption through AI.

Looking to the future, the combination of the IoT and AI will bring many benefits. Geographical data, weather and climate information, as well as activities, water and energy consumption and other factors will be very useful for planners, building organisations, builders and landlords.

Perceived architecture represents the next generation of sustainable building systems. Smart buildings will soon be able to integrate the IoT devices on their own, as well as generate large amounts of information and use it to optimise buildings. This provides a whole new dimension to the service and to the business and home economics model.

This is particularly relevant for the ageing population, as these smart technologies can radically change the lifestyles of the elderly people and their families. They are expected to bring transformative benefits in terms of health and well-being.

The key elements of such a home include smart, non-invasive and safe and secure connections with friends, family members, general practitioners, nurses and health care professionals, involving the care of residents. Technology based on battery-free sensors connected to the IoT will help prevent accidents at home, resulting from kitchens utensils and overflowing toilets, etc., and keep up with residents’ interactions with healthcare professionals.

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Top 10 Emerging Technologies to Watch in 2021

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The World Economic Forum announced today its annual list of breakthrough technologies with the most significant potential to impact the world positively. From climate change to public health, technology will play a critical role in finding solutions to many of the world’s challenges. This year’s emerging technologies demonstrate the rapid pace of human innovation and offer a glimpse into what a more sustainable, healthier future could look like.

“Our goal with the list is always to identify those with the greatest potential for impact, but we also want to provide a diverse and inspirational list,” said Jeremy Jurgen, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum. “Every single technology has the potential to solve major global challenges.”

The technologies on the 10th anniversary list, curated by experts convened by the World Economic Forum and Scientific American, are selected against several criteria. In addition to promising major benefits to societies and economies, they must also be disruptive, attractive to investors and researchers, and expected to have achieved considerable scale within five years.

Over the past nine years, experts have made predictions about the emerging technologies expected to have major social, economic and environmental impacts worldwide. Many of the predictions were proven correct, while others did not come to fruition. Only time will tell if this year’s top 10 emerging technologies will transform lives or be displaced as more urgent needs arise.

“We’re delighted to present this collection of ambitious, potentially transformative technologies. These inspiring and actionable ideas confront some of the most urgent challenges of our time, including climate, health, agriculture and communication.” said Laura Helmuth, Editor-in-Chief at the Scientific American.

The top 10 technologies to make the list are:

Decarbonization technologies

As nations race to deliver on their commitments to tackle climate change, a multitude of technologies that offer lower-carbon footprint solutions, or suck carbon dioxide out of the air, will need to scale up fast. These technologies will include net-zero emissions air-conditioning, low-carbon cement, renewable energy sources and meat-free protein, among others.

Self-fertilizing crops

Providing food for the world’s growing population relies heavily on such nitrogen-containing industrial fertilizers as ammonia – the production of which accounts for 1% to 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. New engineering approaches enable crop plants to produce their own fertilizer by mimicking a symbiotic relationship between plant roots and soil bacteria that occurs in nature.

Disease-diagnosing breath sensors

Human breath contains more than 800 compounds. New breath-sensing technologies analyse these compounds and detect changes in concentrations of compounds associated with diseases. Early-stage testing has demonstrated the potential of breath sensing technologies to diagnose COVID-19, tuberculosis and cancer.

On-demand drug manufacturing

Traditionally, drugs are made in large batches through a multi-step process with different parts dispersed among many locations worldwide. Recent advances in microfluidics and on-demand drug manufacturing open the possibility of common drugs like antidepressants and antihistamines being made to the exact dose and formulation tailored for an individual, on-site at their local pharmacy.

Energy from wireless signals

Devices that do not require much power to operate, such as pacemakers and smartwatches, could soon be wirelessly charged through Wi-Fi and 5G signals, leading to a future where low-power wireless devices never need plugging in.

Engineering better ageing
Research that unlocks the understanding of ageing mechanisms enables the development of targeted therapies that could one day stave off dementia and other age-related ailments, leading to healthier elderly years.

Green ammonia

Green ammonia, which is made from cleaner sources of hydrogen, could provide more environmentally friendly fertilizers for crops.

Wireless biomarker devices

Monitoring chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer requires frequent blood testing to identify and track certain biological markers. Innovations in wireless, portable and wearable sensors integrated in clothing or contact lenses could soon monitor this vital information continuously.

Houses printed from locally sourced materials

Building houses with 3D printers could help tackle the challenge of inadequate housing for 1.6 billion people worldwide. The concept of 3D printing houses has been around for a while, but new advances enable houses to be built from locally sourced materials like clay, saving time, money and energy on transporting building materials to the site.

Space internet of things

At least 10 billion active devices make up the internet of things (IoT), a number that is expected to more than double in the next 10 years. Maximizing IoT benefits in communication and automation requires devices to be spread worldwide, but cellular networks span less than half the globe, leaving enormous gaps in connectivity. A space-based IoT system could patch those gaps, using a network of low-cost, low-weight nanosatellites that orbit a few hundred kilometres from Earth.

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