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Wi-Fi 6 Wireless Networking Standard Could Be Healthcare Game Changer

The next-generation Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless networking standard could be a game changer for healthcare organizations operating many bandwidth-intensive connected devices.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- The next-generation Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless networking standard could be a game changer for healthcare organizations operating many bandwidth-intensive connected devices.

This week the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced Wi-Fi Certified 6, which provides higher data rates, increased capacity, strong performance even with many connected devices, and improved power efficiency compared with previous Wi-Fi versions.

In particular, Wi-Fi Certified 6 offers:

  • Uplink and downlink orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), which increases network efficiency and lowers latency for high-demand environments, such as hospitals
  • Multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO), which allows more data to be transferred at the same time and enables an access point to transmit to a larger number of concurrent clients
  • Transmit beamforming, which enables higher data rates at a given range resulting in greater network capacity
  • 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM), which increases throughput in Wi-Fi devices by encoding more data in the same amount of spectrum
  • Target wake time (TWT), which improves battery life in Wi-Fi devices, such as Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices

“Wi-Fi continues to be a predominant technology for accessing the internet, with a strong history of success,” said ABI Senior Research Analyst Andrew Zignani. “Wi-Fi Certified 6 will further escalate Wi-Fi’s role, with more than one billion Wi-Fi 6 chipsets expected to be shipped annually in 2022.”

“The rollout of this Wi-Fi 6 certification is another exciting step forward for the unlicensed ecosystem. Wi-Fi 6 brings enhanced performance to connected environments and will be key for powering next-generation use cases,” commented Biongo Wireless CTO Derek Peterson.

To make things easier, the Wi-Fi Alliance is adopting a new naming convention for Wi-Fi versions. Instead of having to remember 802.11ac, Wi-Fi users just need to remember Wi-Fi 5. For 802.11n, the designation is Wi-Fi 4. And Wi-Fi 6 is based on the next-generation 802.11ax technology.

According to a survey by Wakefield Research commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance, more than half of Wi-Fi users want the latest technology, but nearly three-quarters of respondents avoid buying devices when it is too difficult to understand technical labels and descriptions.

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Wi-Fi Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6 and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

The benefits of Wi-Fi Certified 6 to device-intensive healthcare environments is obvious. The number of connected devices in healthcare settings has exploded, and this trend will only accelerate with the widespread adoption of IoMT devices.

The explosion of connected devices requires healthcare IT infrastructure to provide more bandwidth and faster speeds to handle larger file sizes and more connections.

Zion Market Research recently forecast that the healthcare IoT market will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11 percent, reaching $14.7 billion by 2022.

Zion expects market growth to be fueled by implementation of connected diagnostic and therapeutic devices to detect disease and monitor and maintain patient health, as well as fitness and wellness devices.

The healthcare IoT systems and software segment is expected to see the strongest growth rate, growing at a 12.6 percent CAGR through 2022. The remote patient monitoring segment is expected to achieve a CAGR of 11.3 percent through 2022.

The new Wi-Fi 6 standards will be particular useful for wireless networking in hospitals since it would better support the connectivity requirements of the many digital tools now used by modern facilities.

Hospitals often have many access points in locations that face wireless signal restrictions as well as many devices that may interfere with each other. The increased capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 could ease these connectivity problems.  

Of course, upgrading networks and devices to the new standard will be expensive, but the investment will be worth it in the long run with better device performance, increased productivity, and better patient outcomes.

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