Latest Wi-Fi standards could boost mHealth connectivity

Commercial wireless products incorporating new Wi-Fi standards could hit the market later this year, driving a new wave of connectivity in hospitals, according to an article in eWeek.

Once ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in December, 802.11ac will become the new Wi-Fi standard, supplementing 802.11n and enabling channel bonding and multiple input-multiple output (MIMO) technology which allows for sending data over multiple antennas simultaneously.

"What [802.11ac] is able to do is with a single radio is what [802.11n] would have done with three radios," said Jay Botelho, director of product management at WildPackets, a Walnut Creek, Calif. company that develops networking hardware and software.

A data rate of 450 Mbps with a single radio on an iPhone could allow doctors to look up electronic health records, Botelho is quoted as saying. "That's pretty fast for anything handheld, and that's really going to help in that hospital environment," he said, referring to the need to send medical data back and forth between providers.

The 802.11ac standard operates in the 5GHz band, which brings less interference than the 2.4GHz. Although hospitals will still need to connect devices to the Internet using 802.11ac or 802.11n, they can use the 60GHz band of 802.11ad for high-demanding localized tasks. The 802.11ad version of Wi-Fi, a short-range technology, was ratified by IEEE in December 2012.

The 802.11ad standard could allow doctors to switch their connection from 802.11ac or 802.11n to "ad" to run an electrocardiogram, Botelho said. They would use 802.11ac or 802.11n to connect the EKG machine to the Internet, and "ad" could connect an EKG unit to a wireless monitor. In addition, expanding Wi-Fi in hospitals will also allow doctors to access X-ray images wirelessly on a mobile device such as an iPad, he said.

In September 2012, the Federal Communications Commission posted its final rules for Medical Body Area Networks (MBANs), which will consist of wearable monitors that send non-voice data to nearby hubs and will free patients from their hospital beds. The FCC is allocating 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2360-2400 MHz band for MBANs, with the 2360-2390 MHz band to be used indoors only, and the 2390-2400 MHz band to accommodate outdoor use.

To learn more:
- read the eWeek article