The demand for optimized wireless connectivity is an ongoing concern for hospital managers—both for critical staff communication and for patient/guest comfort and connection. In our modern world, high-performance cellular connectivity is not only something people want, it is something they expect—and as consumers, employees, and patients, we’re all familiar with the irritation that follows the lack of coverage or spotty reception inside hospitals, hotels and other public buildings.
Today, roughly 80% of mobile traffic occurs indoors, yet many buildings, including hospitals, rely on large outdoor cell towers to provide good in-building coverage. In fact, it is estimated that only 2% of commercial buildings have dedicated technology to ensure strong and reliable mobile coverage and capacity indoors. For years, wireless providers have faced the challenge of providing wireless coverage in areas where concrete walls, energy-efficient glass, and building height block or disrupt radio frequency (RF) signals, leading to poor reception.
How poor connectivity burdens the healthcare sector
Industry analysts forecast monthly in-building traffic to reach 53 exabytes—that’s one quintillion bytes—per month by 2020 and cite the healthcare industry as one of the top traffic drivers. Unfortunately, hospitals in the U.S. have only around 7 percent cellular penetration. Like many other in-building use cases, modern hospitals struggle with proper connectivity and often have “dead zones”—areas where it is not possible to receive a strong or interference-free signal, which means that some of the hospital’s staff and visitors end up experiencing sub-par connectivity.
The increasing demand for connectivity creates an opportunity for hospitals to streamline operations and improve the customer experience for patients and guests. For example:
Modern operating suites are equipped with advanced audio-visual technology, including high-resolution video displays, touch-screen-controlled patient monitors and digital information archiving equipment. These technologies rely on wireless connectivity to transfer real-time, mission-critical information. If a connection is delayed or breaks off in the middle of a high-risk operation, a surgery might fail or be postponed, possibly putting a patient’s life at risk. Furthermore, there is a potential impact to schedules as well as other economic issues.
Long-and-short term critical care
Intensive care units rely heavily on bedside devices like ventilators, infusion pumps, and bedside computer terminals to deliver care to critically ill patients. These devices are required to run for long periods, without fail. Wireless technology avoids the hazardous, messy, and complicated gatherings of wires and cables associated with traditional devices, which also limit the mobility of the patients.
Many treatments count on hospital pharmacies collecting, documenting and exchanging patient details and clinical information effectively. Before medical professionals can recommend impactful remedies, they must access what medications the patient is already taking, what medicines work well together, and what might affect the overall health of the patient—anywhere in the hospital, at any time, and on any device. Moreover, as medical records contain sensitive information, this needs to be done on a hyper-secure communications channel.
Across a variety of departments within hospital facilities, establishing reliable and secure wireless connections is a top priority. Keep in mind that poor connectivity is also an issue when performing maintenance and operations over wireless networks, such as sensors for fire and lighting, HVAC equipment, elevator gauges, and security equipment. If wireless providers, network operators and building managers continue to struggle with effective indoor coverage, this could have a significant impact on the healthcare sector over time.
Challenges with current connectivity 0fferings
Wireless service providers have a limited budget and prioritize their indoor infrastructure spending on higher-value locations like stadiums, airports, and convention centers. To many service providers, hospitals are considered a lower-tier ’mid-market” venue. Moreover, hospitals employ a variety of signal-emitting equipment, like MRI machines, which lead to a complex and challenging RF environment.
Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), which leverage a cell site in a building utility room and distribute the signal to other smaller antennas throughout the building, are a popular option but costly to install. Additionally, hospital building managers often turn to Wi-Fi for connectivity services. However, these channels have become crowded, and Wi-Fi connections are prone to interference. As a result, Wi-Fi does not effectively solve indoor cellular coverage problems, especially for mission-critical and back-office services.
Introducing an alternative with OnGo
In 2015, the FCC recognized that a large piece of the 3.5 GHz spectrum band was not fully used by its federal incumbents and established the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to open the use of the band for shared public and private useThis innovative move was a critical departure from the way spectrum was traditionally assigned, licensed, managed and operated. With the CBRS initiative, the FCC redefined dynamic sharing rules to make 150 MHz of wireless spectrum available for flexible wireless broadband for commercial users.
Technologies based on the 3.5 GHz band, named OnGo, provide interference-free LTE services that target connectivity gaps where healthcare facilities need it most, including indoors. For example, with solutions based on OnGo technology, hospitals can run their own in-building networks using a private LTE connection, which is as secure and high-speed as traditional LTE networks but is as easy to deploy and cost-effective as Wi-Fi.
Furthermore, OnGo enables organizations to leverage neutral host networks. These networks arrange connectivity to patients, employees, and visitors with subscriptions to several different hosted operators, without any visible changes or coverage discrepancies. Neutral host infrastructure supports all mobile network operators and technologies, provides optimal wireless services in public buildings like hospitals, and presents both staff and customers with reliable, high-capacity coverage.
Lastly, OnGo will help accelerate the hospitals of the future. Internet of Things (IoT) technology is recasting the way people and ‘things’ interact with each other and has introduced innovative tools that help optimize patient care while reducing costs. But it requires an optimized wireless signal with stable and predictable performance to deliver value. As IoT innovation and device deployment efforts increase, it is important for hospitals to lay the groundwork for a secure, reliable and cost-effective wireless solution to support today and tomorrow’s connectivity needs.
The CBRS Alliance, an industry consortium that consists of more than 100 members, believes that access to this new spectrum will create boundless opportunities for businesses, including hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In July 2018, the FCC took the next step toward the first commercial deployments in the 3.5 GHz band by announcing an “initial commercial deployment” phase. These first commercial deployments are expected to come as early as the first half of 2019, and already we’re seeing leading organizations exploring how to take advantage of solutions such as OnGo.
Offering wireless in a world where spectrum is limited, but data demand is not
The frustrations of poor indoor cellular coverage are universal. Indeed, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) say that technology is one of six major challenges faced by building management, and existing cellular systems do not necessarily provide the required level of reliability and security to support their needs. Shared spectrum access technologies, like OnGo, can help resolve many of the wireless network access challenges experienced by hospitals and health clinics, while also saving them from paying for high-cost solutions and workarounds.
In summary, OnGo translates to cut costs and improved bottom lines for hospitals. The technology ensures reliable coverage for entire hospital buildings without dead spots – and patients, guests, and employees won’t be frustrated with weak or nonexistent coverage. Ultimately, that connectivity will drive higher customer satisfaction and improve business operations and reputation.
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