5G will supercharge healthcare, is your network ready?
By Bill Cune
Published: April 27, 2023
Connectivity —particularly cellular connectivity — is transforming healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic caused an increase in telehealth appointments, of course, but the potential for transfiguration runs far deeper.
Fiber-to-the-edge (FTTE) backed networks enable use cases like remote surgeries conducted with precision robotics. Connected ambulances are allowing doctors to receive detailed information and imagery on a critical patient before they arrive at the hospital. Improved patient monitoring, and augmented reality tools for clinicians — all of it will change the way care is delivered.
Each of these use cases will require secure, reliable, and powerful connectivity. Wi-Fi may not be able to keep up with the demand, and wired connections are inconvenient. Many interior offices and hallways are in “dead zones” where there is no signal at all.
A modernized network based on 5G, the latest generation of cellular technology, and equipped with specialized radios designed for indoor coverage, can give healthcare facilities the connectivity solutions they need. These networks can meet the demands of a modern hospital while laying a foundation for the future. In addition, a more efficient, unified connectivity solution can help lower the total cost of operation of a healthcare facility’s IT infrastructure, and can enable new workflows. Simply but, there are compelling reasons for healthcare organizations to invest in 5G networks now.
Reasons to invest in cellular solutions
The most important reason to upgrade: the potential to improve patient outcomes through a superior connected experience. As stated in our “4 Reasons Why 5G and Healthcare Make Sense” e-book, 67% of the largest U.S. hospitals provide mobile health (m-health) apps for patients while 61% of people have expressed their desire to have mobile access to their medical records. A 5G mobile broadband network is essential to provide this connected experience, granting patients the ability to remain connected to family and friends, their physicians and medical staff, and to information they need to make good healthcare decisions.
An upgraded 5G network can also help staff stay connected. A study conducted by an industry participant found that healthcare workers were actually the most likely to complain of poor cell coverage, often having to go outside the building to connect. At a time where cell phones are increasingly necessary to access on-the-job tools, things like two-factor authentication and other mobile-based programs, a reliable cellular solution is critical.
Better mobile connectivity can also help hospitals establish new, improved workflows for both patients and staff. Crowded waiting rooms could be replaced by patients registering and checking in remotely, further improving time-to-serve and minimizing the transmission of illness. Unlike the limited range of Wi-Fi, a cellular network provides coverage in the immediate area around the medical facility to ensure patients receive the text or call — including areas that have traditionally been cellular “dead zones” like parking lots. Other workflows that would be enabled with 5G could include interior and exterior wayfinding, advanced clinician communications, centralized inpatient monitoring, and real-time asset management.
5G is the latest generation of cellular technology, but it’s much more than an incremental improvement over 4G/LTE. It brings not just faster speed but entirely new capabilities like low latency, meaning the “lag” between an input and action is almost non-existent, even over great distances. This improvement will be key for sophisticated applications like remote surgery.
5G also empowers “massive” connectivity, meaning it will supercharge the Internet of Things (IoT). In a hospital setting, this is critically important — there are hundreds of connected devices, scanners, X-ray machines, and more — that move around the facility throughout the day. All those devices would overwhelm a Wi-Fi network; cellular connectivity is the only way to connect them securely and reliably.
5G is also important because of the increased availability of spectrum, the electromagnetic frequencies through which wireless signals travel. With 5G, the amount of spectrum available to carriers has more than doubled, and two specific spectrums hold incredible promise for network architects.
Spectrum in the 3-4 GHz range – also known as C-band – holds incredible power. It’s part of what makes 5G not just an incremental enhancement but a facilitator for brand-new use cases due to higher throughput. And millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum brings high capacity to hotspots within a hospital. Think of it as expanding a busy highway from two lanes to six lanes of traffic (3-4 GHz range). Corning has installed mmWave equipment in major sporting venues, high-traffic retail stores, and even office buildings, places with high mobile traffic from the public in addition to the facility’s own users and application needs.
5G really offers much more than just faster 4G. Nearly all applications can take advantage of the 5G network and that makes it a one stop shop network for healthcare.
Improving patient experience and outcomes begins with a wireless-first design, where 5G is delivered with a FTTE architecture. A 5G network supported by a high-capacity fiber backbone provides the sub-1-millisecond latency that can deliver life-saving patient services while keeping patients connected to their loved ones on a reliable network.
IT infrastructure in healthcare settings resembles many other industries that have undergone rapid and continual transformation: muddled with multiple networks using different equipment and cabling solutions. There’s a better way.
Corning’s approach is to extend the fiber that used to terminate at a server closet further into the facility, even down to individual rooms. From there, software switches at the edge can deliver greater power and performance. This approach streamlines cabling, with a single fiber doing the job formerly required by multiple use-specific cables. From the edge, a facility can convert to a Wi-Fi access point, a 5G mm wave radio, or DAS remote to cover all bands.
This method also provides total cost efficiencies because it uses less materials and requires less labor to install. Simplifying cabling through fiber also means there’s less disruption in the form of construction and renovation, which is always difficult in a 24/7 enviroment like hospitals.
The rapid evolution of technology in hospitals and other healthcare facilities has meant that out of necessity, connectivity solutions are a patchwork of different systems. There’s a better way to provide the services patents and staff need to deliver better, more efficient care. A 5G network built on a FTTE solution can give providers the infrastructure to solve the challenges of the past, meet the demands of today, and future-proof for the next 50 years.
To learn more about how 5G connectivity and C-band wireless technology can improve the functionality of hospitals, visit here.