Sponsored: 5G and the Future of Pervasive IoMT

In order for hospitals and health systems to prepare for 5G, they need to intelligently re-architect their current network infrastructure now to support the applications and uses cases that will leverage 5G in the future.
12:13 PM
Nurse accessing digital patient information.

5G is the next generation of wireless connectivity and yes—it’s going to be a game changer. Verizon has launched 5G mobile service in parts of over 30 cities now in the U.S. and several high-profile venues like NFL stadiums, and there has been much discussion of how 5G’s ultra-fast speeds and high capacity will enable all sorts of new uses for consumers. But as exciting as all of this is to the average mobile user, the greatest potential for 5G to reshape the connectivity landscape is likely in enterprise.

5G has enormous potential to support enterprise-class applications such as those that exist in the healthcare market with highly secure, low-latency, and private cellular connections to support specific mission critical tasks and applications. We are actively deploying these networks in our 5G Labs and partnering with companies large and small to identify and explore use cases across a multitude of industries. And healthcare keeps rising to the top of the list of 5G contenders.   

While this potential for 5G is great, industry still has a long way to go to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity. Enterprise organizations still have a great deal of untangling to do with their current network infrastructures, and it will be some time yet before 5G (rollout, enablement, and device utilization) reaches a meaningful point to see these potentials realized.

So, how can healthcare organizations prepare?

The best thing a healthcare organization can do right now to prepare for the future is to understand where you are now and map your path forward. Whenever possible, plan to move away from proprietary technologies and network implementations. Move instead toward more standards-based, software-defined offerings. Focus on your applications and look for technologies that support multiple use cases. 

For example, over the past decade hospitals have spent millions of dollars on proprietary RFID systems for tracking healthcare assets and, in some cases, at-risk patients and newborn infants.  These systems generally required an entire parallel infrastructure to the existing Wi-Fi network and expensive proprietary tags. With the evolution of cloud-native, software-defined Wi-Fi platforms with integrated Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) antennas, a hospital can now greatly improve the Wi-Fi experience, dramatically lower the cost of installation, and manage the network service other than at the access points. There is no on-site infrastructure required. In addition, a hospital can now leverage standards-based, off-the-shelf BLE asset tags that are significantly less expensive than proprietary versions. 

Take a look at what you have, prioritize your application needs, and make every effort to move toward a more agile, software-defined network architecture. 

Consider SD-WAN. Network connectivity can be provided in a multitude of ways based on the location and physical environment—fiber, MPLS, cable broadband, LTE Backup, etc.  Historically, proprietary hardware-based network solutions severely limited an enterprise’s ability to efficiently run their network ecosystems. With software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV), organizations can now move toward a much more agile ecosystem where advanced orchestration and “application aware” routing can prioritize network traffic based on policy and bandwidth availability and route low-priority demand (e.g., guest Wi-Fi) to lower-cost alternatives.

The absolute minimum requirement to support IoMT is connectivity. While the technology has changed over the years, everyone knows what it means when connectivity is lost or “the system is down.”

Hospitals can be a hodge-podge of network technologies that have stacked up over the years—miles of network cables that all look the same, multiple implementations of Wi-Fi networks, and a combination of Active and Passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems for tracking medical equipment and supplies, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons strategically placed to support wayfinding applications, mobile carts with laptops and barcode readers for reading patient wristbands and charts, and caregivers walking around with several mobile phones, tablets, and proprietary IP communications devices. 

That is not to say that IoT is not hugely important—it is. But some of the most important components may be getting lost in the noise. And this may necessitate a shift in how we think about IoT:

  • IoT is the embodiment of ubiquitous/pervasive computing.
  • IoT is a journey, not a destination.
  • IoT is distributed computing on a mass scale.

And this is important because IoT is now a reality and it is the foundation for digital transformation. NFV and SDN are foundational building blocks of an enterprise IoT strategy. So in the future, when 5G triggers an unprecedented boom in devices, connections, and sensing “things,” it will matter a great deal whether you are taking steps today to get ready for that kind pervasive computing capability.

So many people ask us about 5G—When will it get here? When can I buy it? Yet few companies are truly ready for it. We give them all the same advice. Don’t play the game of watch and wait. Intelligently re-architect your networks now.

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