- With all the connected devices in healthcare environment, wireless networking capacity has become a priority for IT teams in hospitals.
One solution being proposed by the CBRS Alliance is to use shared spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for in-building 4G LTE cellular service. Members of the alliance include AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Ericsson, Google, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ruckus, and Verizon.
Early next year, CBRS Alliance expects to begin offer in-building cellular service in the 3.5 GHz citizens band radio spectrum (CBRS) that the FCC opened up to wireless broadband use for industrial applications, such as healthcare, in 2015 and recently approved high-speed cellular services to operate in the band.
“The work that has been done by the CBRS Alliance is about enabling that spectrum sharing, but still protecting those players that have the need and the use of the spectrum traditionally,” explained CBRS Alliance Executive Director Alan Ewing.
The US Navy currently uses the 3.5 GHz band for its radar systems on the coasts. CBRS has put technical mechanisms in place to prevent its cellular service from interfering with the Navy and other incumbent users, Ewing told HITInfrastructure.com.
Using the CBRS Alliance’s OnGo Wireless technology, hospitals can set up and run their own in-building networks using the 3.5 GHz band and standard 4G LTE cellular technology, he related.
“The hospital could be running a private LTE network at a slightly different channel that would be dedicated to just the doctors being able to record chart information, or review medical information about patients, or share information back and forth among themselves or the hospital's data management systems,” Ewing said.
“The RF environment in any building, hospitals in particular, are very complex. As things begin to move to sensors that are in the rooms themselves and connected devices that are assisting medical professionals, that environment becomes more and more congested,” he added.
“We're very aware of the need for connectivity in the building so that patients, patients' families, and doctors can stay connected in the traditional ways with their phones for both voice and data, but also being able to bring better data solutions for the purposes of moving information that is critical to healthcare between connected devices, health monitoring devices, etc.,” Ewing said.
Using the OnGo network, medical staff and administrators can securely communicate and send sensitive medical files. Patients and their families can use the wireless broadband capability for communication and entertainment.
Ewing related that CBRS is still in discussions with the FCC about when the initial deployments of OnGo will occur. “When the initial deployments happen, the floodgates really open. This very valuable piece of spectrum that resides at 3.5 GHz suddenly becomes available for not just in-building use, but also an enormous number of use cases that OnGo can support,” he said.
“Having something like OnGo become available really is going to address the lack of connectivity that occurs in big buildings in general, and hospitals in particular,” he related.
Ewing explained that LTE cellular is more secure as a data transfer technology than Wi-Fi, a major concern for healthcare organizations sending and receiving PHI.
The OnGo 4G LTE cellular network would operate alongside the existing Wi-Fi wireless network in the hospital or other healthcare facility.
“The 3.5 GHz spectrum is a new chunk of commercial spectrum, so the congestion issue and that security issue are fundamentally addressed. Wi-Fi will always have its place. This is not meant to supplant Wi-Fi as a technology or supplant Wi-Fi availability, but to augment and build upon the expectations the consumers have about connectivity,” he explained.
Using a private OnGo network, users would still be able to connect with an outside cellular network, such as AT&T or Verizon, Ewing related.
“We will be providing this private secure network capability for all kinds of purposes, including data exchange and voice communicatino for doctors, nurses, even maintenance staff. I think is really exciting from that perspective. We're really looking forward to seeing the wide adoption of this next year,” Ewing concluded.