How will 5G and healthcare tango and why should I care?

How will 5G and healthcare tango and why should I care?

As technology evolves, it’s becomes difficult to keep up. Fall behind, then your tech becomes obsolete and your competitors are all over you. Now, 5G, which is the fifth generation of wireless technology, is here.

“But, why should I care about the 5G tango?”

Video and/or health monitoring

Would a parent watching their infant with a monitoring system accept a choppy experience? Or can a vital signs monitoring system have spotty coverage? No, not these days.

It’s important to get ahead of the tango because:

  • Previously difficult problems can be solved now, meaning now is the time to solidify your vision of making the world a better place
    • Significant financial opportunities exist for ancillary features, such as remote control and monitoring
      • A $76 billion revenue opportunity for addressing the 5G healthcare transformation is predicted [2] 
  • Entire industries (your partners & competitors included) are moving, making it easy to fall behind
    • Due to your customers expecting seamless connectivity for more demanding services – current tech won’t suffice
  • Legacy technologies will be phased out
    • T-Mobile plans to remove 2G support by the end of 2020 [1]

Virtually all parts of healthcare will be affected; though the telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) sections will be especially affected. The telemedicine market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 16.5% until 2023, elucidating ample opportunities to introduce new tech [3].

Not only do we have a technological shift, but also a patient expectation transformation. Patients expect seamless connectivity regardless of their locations. They no longer accept connectivity confined to home Wi-Fi or spotty outside coverage. They want their medical solution to work regardless of their location. Clearly a connectivity solution that considers the various available communication links is critical.

Part of that challenge has been partially solved with legacy wireless systems. But, medical products have yet to adapt to the 5G (and eventually 6G) revolutions. And that’s where we can achieve a rich user experience as well as effective diagnostics and treatments.

In the table below, we look at different wireless technologies that have evolved over time.

TechTheor. Data RateLatencyApplication
2G50 Kbps750 msSMS, pictures, MSM
3G2 Mbps300 msVoice, Video Calling, Internet
4G100 Mbps20 msHigh Res. Video Stream
5G20 Gbps1 msAR/VR/Ultra High Res. Video
Bandwidth for different technologies. Data from [4] and [5]

In practice, the true data rate1 is a function of multiple variables, including:

  • Surrounding devices
    • Similar devices broadcasting at same frequency can interfere
  • Modulation
  • Transmit Power
  • Weather
  • Other factors

The realized data rate may only be a tenth of the theoretical, but the table nonetheless underscores the growth potential. Implementing a 5G solution yields an effective throughput increase of about 20x.

However, the real benefit isn’t only the data rate. The latency, or time lag between sending and receiving messages, is key – 5G offers a substantial (20x) reduction compared to 4G. The reduction is crucial for Virtual Reality (VR) and telemedicine applications. Also, vital signs could be streamed with an error rate less than a billionth, making remote surgical operations possible; 4G, on the other hand, is insufficiently equipped [4].

Therefore, even though legacy systems may be fast enough for some RPM (and other healthcare applications), legacy systems in several cases do not meet the latency requirement.

Now, let’s study the data rate and size requirements for different applications:

ApplicationData Size or Data Rate
Image File – PET Scanner1 GB (Size)
Video Conference2 Mbps (Speed)
Virtual Reality (Training)50 Mbps (Speed)
Surgery (4K Camera)75 Mbps (Speed)
Augmented Reality (6 DoF) (Assisted Surgery)5 Gbps (Speed)
Data sizes and rates for different applications. Data from [4-7]

Therefore, as the application becomes demanding, legacy systems become less practical.

So, it’s more than simply device connectivity. It’s about providing access to all for a better, faster, more available healthcare solution.

“What if I just select some 5G chipset and call it good?”

Careful. Select the wrong 5G chipset and you’ll be in a world of hurt. The right choice requires a well-thought, forward-thinking exercise. Speaking from experience on chip selection.

What to do now?

  • What are some practical ways to get ahead of the competition before time is lost?
  • How can these learnings complement an existing strategy and product?
    • And what 5G chipsets to consider or avoid?
      • Well, what about integration?
  • What about in the context of medical regulations?

These are great questions. You could send us a message here and we can stir up some ideas.


1Data rateA->B is the data rate from point A to point B and is oftentimes asymmetric (Data RateA->B ≠ Data RateB->A) due to the different allocated transponder frequency bandwidths in either directions. Some texts refer to bandwidth as the same as data rate. However, we don’t mix the terms here because the term bandwidth has multiple meanings (such as range of frequencies).

Also, the common term download is related to, but different from, data rate. Download refers to an application level transmission of data that usually uses acknowledgements in the opposite direction during the transfer. Therefore, download is usually a function of the latency as well as the (asymmetric) data rate. The concept of bandwidth-delay product (BDP) becomes central.


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