5G Wireless Technology – Why Healthcare must prepare today


With rapid growth in wireless demand inevitable over the next five years, planning for the future of wireless starts now. We had 3G, then 4G, and now we are ready for the 5th Generation of wireless, or 5G. According to Nokia’s Director of Advanced Solutions Luisa Miller-Hughley (via HealthcareIT News)…

“5G is expected to become mainstream in 2020 and is designed to support ultra-reliable, low-latency and massive data communications.”

As wireless technologies continue to advance, many of the technologies currently deployed need to be upgraded to support patient, family, and staff expectations. What is your facility doing to plan for this growth? Where are you on the roadmap? Is carrier-funded DAS going to continue? SO many questions to be discussed as owners begin their search for a suitable technology infrastructure to support future wireless network requirements.

Wireless connectivity is the fourth utility.

Smartphones and “connectedness” are now a way of life in our society.  That expectation does not end at the doors of a hospital. Patients, families, staff, and especially doctors want – and often expect – to have fast access to wireless service, on-demand video streaming, and a bevy of personalized applications. All that voice-data-internet convergence requires bandwidth – a lot of it. Major wireless providers are constantly upgrading their networks to add frequencies and technologies to rise to our voracious and seemingly insatiable demands for mobile data.

Mobile evolution over time.

Both facility owners and cellular providers have been challenged with keeping up with the rapid growth and need for increased throughput at the mobile level.

  • 1970s – Mobile or cellular networks were first introduced.
  • 1990s – The second generation, or 2G, service was introduced. It improved voice traffic quality but only limited data service.
  • 1998 – 2000s – The third generation, or 3G service was introduced. Audio, graphics, and video applications were not possible until 3G.
  • 2008 – The current generation of mobile telephony, 4G, was introduced.

This current generation is a series of measures that defines the demands of a 4G network and the standards that must be met; for example, a common standard specifies a 4G network as one that offers 100Mbps for devices on the move.  In only six years we have seen a 25x growth in the consumption of 4G data. This evolution has not always been easy and often has required costly rip and replace of both infrastructure and electronics, as the need to adopt new methods and technologies have emerged. (Enough to keep IT professionals and owners up at night!) The 5G standard is still in development but is expected provide speeds at 1 GB/second to the user element (phone), be more reliable and accessible… and probably more expensive.

Oh the possibilities…

But the benefits may extend beyond watching videos on your phone while you’re in the Med/Surg unit.  RTLS, robotics, and other clinical applications may find their way onto the wireless network, once 1Gbps wireless speeds are achieved.  Medical equipment devices manufacturers and hospital owners gain great potential towards identifying ways to use this bandwidth to improve health outcomes and patient satisfaction scores. Facilities can also leverage this technology for future move, add, change work for wireless access points, IP cameras and other ceiling network devices.

Design implications of 5G

5G capability could require fiber deeper into networks, think passive optical LAN, due to latency and capacity demands. In addition to better latency and greater capacity demands, 5G will also require support for unlicensed cellular bands at 5.9GHz (LAA) and 3.5 GHz (CBRS).  What are the pros and cons and design considerations for private LTE and CBRS as a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) replacement strategy? How can these technologies be leveraged across the healthcare platform?

Planning for the future is a critical step to the overall Technology Strategic Plan. Every facility wants a “future-proof design.”  Costs, particularly the Total Cost of Ownership, need to be understood and evaluated.  What are the best technologies for a facility for the present and future? In a world of rapid technological advancements, planning for 5G and leveraging its infrastructure is one strategy that will surely be sound.

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