FCC vote allows unlicensed devices to operate on same frequency as medical monitors

Unlicensed devices will be allowed to operate on the same frequency as wireless medical telemetry service systems for cardiac and fetal monitoring, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to modernize rules to "accommodate growing demand for ... innovation."

Despite protests from the American Hospital Association, three U.S. senators and 16 members of the House, the FCC insisted at its Aug. 6 hearing that unlicensed TV White Space devices--such as garage door openers, cordless phones and Bluetooth technologies--will not interfere with patient monitoring technology that operates on Channel 37.

"Wireless medical telemetry devices and radio astronomy services will continue to have interference protection on Channel 37," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the hearing. "Unlicensed users also gain access to Channel 37 in areas where these other two are not using it."

The new rules were adopted based on the mindset that following the upcoming incentive auction, white space frequencies in the television band likely will be more limited.

While voting in favor of the new rules, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (pictured) said he shares concerns expressed by the AHA and members of Congress. He proposed that whenever a WMTS facility determines that designated protection zones are not adequate to prevent harmful interference, those zones should be automatically extended up to three times their current size, following a licensee's filing of a waiver request.

"Those extended zones will remain in place until the FCC can adjudicate the merits of the request," Pai said.

AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack expressed concern about the FCC's decision. In a statement issued after the vote, Pollack said the rules are not in the best interest of patients.

"These unlicensed devices may cause interference with wireless monitoring, preventing doctors and nurses from receiving vital information," he said. "There are more than 360,000 WMTS patient monitors in hospitals today, many of which are used for women and infants during labor and delivery and critical heart surgery patients. ... The FCC did allow for an increased buffer, as advocated by Commissioner Pai; however, the commission ignored technical considerations in setting the distance and will require each hospital to demonstrate that larger protection zones are necessary."

To learn more:
- watch the hearing
- read the FCC announcement
- check out the AHA statement
- here's the AHA's letter (.pdf)
- here's the senators' letter (.pdf)