Insight | How can satellite connectivity provide a pathway to sustainability?


How can satellite connectivity provide a pathway to sustainability?


James Cemmell discusses how our satellite technology is driving positive social change in Nigeria, Indonesia and the Philippines through our partnership with the UK Space Agency.

Many people might ask what a private satellite company like Inmarsat is doing working within the international development arena? Satellite communications, in my view, has a very important future within the social impact space – one where we can take our leading-edge services and capabilities and use them for some of the most pressing humanitarian requirements around the world.

The use of satellites to address global challenges is nothing new – Inmarsat was established almost 40 years ago to provide safety and distress services for mariners at sea. Today, we see a world focus on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals set in 2015, which puts a more robust agenda behind a whole set of activities including sustainable oceans, good health and wellbeing, and safe and resilient communities – and here satellite also has an important role to play.

We take digital connectivity as a given but that is simply not the case for many people in many parts of the world. Around half the world remains unconnected, yet we know that countries with robust telecoms infrastructure enjoy major economic productivity and social benefits.

Working in partnership with the UK Space Agency on its International Partnership Programme, we are leading three projects that use our existing satellite technology to come up with connectivity solutions in developing and emerging countries that are affordable and have maximum social impact.

Digital Frontiers

The Philippines is constantly exposed to rapid onset disasters such as weather-related typhoons and earthquakes. When the country suffers a major event – such as Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 – mobile phone networks go down, islands are cut off, and people lose their homes and even their lives. Connectivity is vital to enable information to be sent out to support relief efforts and to put those affected in touch with loved ones. Using our latest high-speed broadband Global Xpress network, we are working with the Philippines government’s Department for Social Welfare and Development, training their Rapid Emergency Telecommunications Teams (RETT) to use our equipment so that it can be deployed in times of disaster.

In Indonesia, we are addressing the huge digital divide within the fisheries community. Here, it is normal for fishers to go out to sea for months at a time without any means of communication with those on shore. It is not only extremely hard for them to be out of contact with home but also in a professional capacity they are unable to keep up with the latest weather reports or identify where the best catch is. In addition, from a compliance standpoint, governments cannot track where the fish are and consumers cannot know if the fish they are buying is from a sustainable source and have been caught legally. Working with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) we are implementing smart satellite technology to reduce illegal and unsustainable fishing and improve the safety and livelihood of the seven-million strong fishing community.

In Nigeria, land-based telecoms are not only expensive to deploy, there are also difficulties with maintaining power to systems and security issues. Using our satellite connectivity, we’re enabling eHealth data and telemedicine information to be available in a number of clinics in the north and south of the country, where isolated and poor communities have little access to medical care and advice. Working in partnership with NGOs, our BGAN service is enabling the use of several applications, including training videos and information systems, to improve healthcare management.

In each of our Digital Frontier projects, satellite is being used to solve a problem in a way that is relevant to the local community – and that’s the pathway to sustainability: coming up with a solution people want and need, and that is really useful.

About the author

James Cemmell is Vice President, Government Engagement at Inmarsat, responsible for Inmarsat’s corporate level engagements with a wide range of government stakeholders. James also leads Inmarsat’s UK government supported emerging market partnership programmes, which presently include: a multi-year disaster response project with the government of the Philippines, a major fisheries traceability initiative with the government of Indonesia, and an eHealth project in North and South Nigeria. He has a Master’s Degree in International Development from BCID, an Advanced Certificate in International Trade Law & Regulation from the World Trade Institute (Bern), and is an EMBA Candidate at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. James is a member of the Board of City & Islington College, London’s leading STEM specialised College.