For hospitals, packet loss can equal blood loss

  • Private 5G enables hospitals to deliver images and more around departments
  • Vodafone, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and other operators have deployed 5G networks in hospitals
  • Robotic surgery, however, is still – largely – not happening with 5G

Packet loss can equal blood loss – and more – in a medical environment. Many large hospitals are forging ahead with deploying private 5G networks to deliver a more stable and reliable connection than either public 5G or Wi-Fi networks can.

Telecom operators and vendors are already going after this market. So far, it mainly seems to be a business segment where the larger operators are providing big hospitals with the 5G standalone (5G SA) networks they need through a private network deployments.

“By far the most basic need is just getting more solidified connectivity and then you can build your operations on top of that,” Chetan Sharma, CEO of Chetan Sharma Consulting, told Fierce on a call. “Oftentimes, hospital IT systems are really antiquated and they can’t even do basic things like transferring images from one area of the hospital to another so doctors can view them."

“They resort to just sending them by cellphones which is against HIPAA regulations but people do it,” Sharma added, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 in the United States, which has complicated healthcare regulations even further in the country.

Sharma noted that the Covid-19 crisis that kicked off the decade helped bring doctors kicking and screaming into the 21st century as they used 5G to empower Zoom consultations from worried patients. “You wanted a more reliable network than you’d had previously,” he said.

Many telecom operators and vendors are already deep into this market. As well as providing reliable 5G connectivity, infrastructure vendors are aiming to supply the basis for providing remote patient monitoring,telemedicine, and more. Research Market Production said that Nokia, Ericsson and Qualcomm are among the top 5G medical infrastructure suppliers today.

David Joosten, director of Vodafone Business International, said to Fierce in May that the operator had recently installed a private 5G network at the large University hospital in Dusseldorf, Germany. “It’s a very large campus,” he said. “They use drones that are working off a 5G private network to deliver parcels and send stuff around."

Sharma said that T-Mobile in the U.S. has done a hybrid private 5G deployment at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, highlighted AT&T’s deployment of 5G at Rush hospitals in Chicago and noted Verizon had done a similar deployment at a hospital in San Fransisco.

Surgery – remote not robotic

Sharma, however, noted that robotic surgery – the poster child of early 5G use cases – is still not really taking place.

“No, no, no, that’s not happening,” he exclaimed. “Not robots actually cutting and sewing!”

Much more common, he said, is having a doctor remotely login into an operation and assist the doctor on site with the operation. Which obviously requires a good camera, a steady connection and very steady hands.

Maybe 6G will bring the robot surgeons.