The Journey to 5G

5G is expected to become mainstream in 2020 and it is designed to support ultra-reliable, low-latency and massive data communications.
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Image provided by Nokia.

Telecommunications, the Internet, wearable smart devices and sensors have revolutionized our daily lives. The healthcare sector is readily exploring and adapting new devices and technologies in the care of patients and their daily practices. More than 96 percent of hospitals have electronic medical records in place, and the use of connected devices is on the rise as the global Internet of Things (IoT) healthcare market is expected to reach $410 billion by 2022.

The rapid proliferation of digital healthcare happened with the help of current 4G LTE technologies. We’ve seen firsthand how 4G connected devices are having a positive effect on patient health. For example, since 2016, Ochsner Health Systems has provided its hypertensive patients in Louisiana with wireless blood pressure cuffs when they leave the hospital. The remote blood pressure cuff sends data to the care team and has resulted in better control of hypertension in patients. There has been an increase of 86 percent in controlling hypertension rates for those using the cuff compared to the U.S. average of 48 percent.

The healthcare industry is moving fast toward a complete digital environment. Breakthrough innovations, such as continuously monitoring every aspect of patient vitals through multisensory environments, teleporting doctors to a virtual environment for remote haptic interactions with their patients, performing technology-enabled remote surgeries or leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to explore, compare sensory data and generate new medical insights. These will all soon become mainstream. Can current communications platforms that are based on 4G LTE capabilities keep up with the exploding demand for connectivity? Is it the most efficient technology for the massive quantity of data that needs to be turned into actionable intelligence instantly? Is it the right technology platform for AI? And is 4G immediate network response sufficient for critical, ultra-low latency, haptic use cases?

This is where the new, fifth generation (5G) technology comes into its own. 5G is expected to become mainstream in 2020 and it is designed to support ultra-reliable, low-latency and massive data communications. It will be the enabler of self-driving cars, virtual reality, smart cities, networked robots and critical next steps in the dramatic transformation of healthcare that currently resides in research labs, waiting for the next generation of connectivity platforms.

Nokia has been involved with an ecosystem of technology partners in a multi-partner research project to turn Oulu University Hospital in Finland into a fully 5G connected hospital to develop and test advanced healthcare use cases.

We predict that several 5G-enabled technologies have the potential to leapfrog and transform the healthcare industry:

AI and big data

When big data analytics is performed with the help of human- and machine-augmented intelligence and machine learning, doctors can generate new healthcare insights and make diagnoses and lifesaving decisions in real time, detecting and preventing anomalies in their patients before they occur.

Ultra-low latency and multi-access edge computing

5G technology is expected to feature ultra-low delay of less than 5 milliseconds. With multi-access edge computing, it’s possible to process data at the edge of the network, using virtualized platforms that can be hosted either on or close to healthcare provider premises. This helps to further reduce delay and makes it possible to control devices remotely with haptic interactions or with gestures. Multisensory technologies layered over such low-latency data mobility means doctors can conduct remote surgeries and other medical procedures.

Network slicing

With network slicing technology, a health provider will be able to virtually “slice” the network and dedicate slices for critical applications, such as remote surgeries or teleporting personnel to a virtual hospital environment. These virtual networks are then configured to operate with specific characteristics. This means ultra-reliable connections, more dedicated, efficient use of hospital’s network resources and data security.

There are immense challenges that lie ahead with 5G, but it will enable a far-reaching revolution in the health sector, from remote diagnosis and surgery to constant, comprehensive, reliable and predictive health monitoring, even outside hospitals. Although a lot can be done with existing technologies, the challenge is that to realize the full potential and benefits of 5G technologies, the hospitals and the digital healthcare providers need to prepare for that today.

Did you know? Nokia has teamed up with Verizon to support connectivity goals for enterprises across the healthcare ecosystem. Please come see us in Booth #8700-15. Visit Verizon in Booth #3243 or visit the Verizon conference website here.

About the Author:

Luisa Miller- Hughley, Director, Advanced Solutions, Nokia