5G Networks And Infrastructure: The Prescription For Improving Telemedicine

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By Kish Rajan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in July announced its $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program” to support virtual healthcare, or “telemedicine.” It’s an important program to bring high-quality care to our veteran, low-income, and minority communities — especially those living in rural and underserved areas.

The program’s success depends on reliable, high-speed wireless internet connections, as those who need the program the most disproportionately rely on mobile access. Specifically, 31% of Americans making less than $30,000 a year do not use broadband at home but own a smartphone, while 24% of black and 35% of Hispanic adults also predominantly rely on mobile to access the internet.

The new FCC program comes at a time when rural areas in particular are facing a healthcare crisis. The National Rural Health Association estimates that as many as 700 rural hospitals are at risk of closing in the next 10 years. Those fighting to stay open often slash services, such as women’s healthcare. Less than half of women living in rural areas are within a 30-minute drive of the nearest hospital offering obstetric/gynecologic services. That makes telemedicine services vital to the health of millions of Americans, particularly women.

Telemedicine allows patients to connect with physicians and other providers in larger cities, sometimes hundreds of miles away. It saves patients long and difficult rides in cars or ambulances and allows smaller clinics to offer specialist services such as psychiatry, rehabilitation, and prenatal care. In Beatty, Nevada, the only healthcare clinic within 60 miles nearly shut down last year. But thanks to a new fiber optic broadband connection, it continues to serve patients by connecting them to doctors in major cities like Las Vegas, located over 120 miles away.

Telemedicine has significant benefits in urban areas, too. It offers low-income, urban patients a way to access healthcare services more efficiently and at less cost than using an emergency room. It cuts wait times for appointments — a huge benefit as wait times have increased 30% since 2014. And it’s already been proven to significantly improve outcomes when used in urban schools. Telemedicine also benefits physicians by allowing them to see more patients faster and without the overhead cost associated with an office.

However, without high-speed wireless connections to allow for quality videoconferencing, telemedicine isn’t a viable option. It requires fast, reliable, and secure connectivity to ensure patients and doctors can see each other and communicate clearly — which is often a problem.

A big reason connections today are often sub-par is our communications infrastructure is too congested to meet current telemedicine demands — and it’s only going to get worse. Wireless data consumption has increased 238% in the last two years alone and according to projections, by 2020 more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors will be connected to our wireless networks.

To deal with the demand today and to lay the foundation for the 5G networks of tomorrow that will allow telemedicine to reach its full potential, we must upgrade and densify our communications infrastructure by expeditiously deploying more fiber optic cable and densification devices known as “small cells.”

“Small cells” are small, inconspicuous wireless nodes most commonly installed on streetlights and utility poles that immediately improve 4G service by relieving strain on existing infrastructure, and will serve as the backbone for 5G networks by significantly expanding coverage and capacity.

While the immediate benefits of small cells to 4G networks can’t be ignored, enabling 5G stands to change lives. 5G promises to move data 20 times faster than 4G, and according to an Accenture report, has the potential to create $160 billion in benefits and savings. As it stands, we have no national plan for 5G deployment and state and local governments have thrown up barriers that have slowed infrastructure development that is necessary to make 5G a reality.

The primary problem is that the regulations and permit reviews required to install “small cells” are unnecessarily convoluted and time consuming. There’s no reason to have the same regulatory requirements for “small cells” that are required for a 200-foot cell tower. If we are to realize the powerful potential of telemedicine, policymakers at the local, state and federal level must be willing to streamline the approval and implementation of “small cells” that are vital to our 4G and 5G success.

As we become more dependent on fast data, it’s time to stop thinking of high speed internet as a luxury and start treating it as a requirement for full participation in today’s mobile world. The future of telemedicine and so much more depends on it.


Kish Rajan is chief evangelist for CALinnovates.

Technology Is Helping To Save Lives In The Northern California Fires

Text alerts, Twitter, Nextdoor — California local governments are using any means necessary to alert people early about coming fires.

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A truck burned by the recent fires in Northern California.

The fires in Northern California have already burned thousands of acres and forced residents from their homes, but thankfully, the death toll has been relatively low. That’s because the counties around San Francisco have gotten savvier about using technology to alert people to leave their homes before the danger gets too close.

According to one article, the number of people who signed up to receive alerts in Sonoma County has jumped from 20,000 to 275,000. Governments are taking advantage of everything from Twitter to artificial intelligence to better reach people who need to evacuate. You can read more about the state’s efforts in this article on Xconomy.

Goal: Speed Security Lines At LAFC’s Stadium

Smarter security means quicker lines.

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Photo courtesy of LAFC.

Waiting in security lines sucks. It can sometimes feel like it takes as long to get into a venue as it does to enjoy the concert or the game. And as security needs increase, it’s likely only going to get worse.

The Bank of California stadium in LA, home to the city’s newest soccer team, LAFC, is hoping to make life a little easier through a partnership with CLEAR, a security company that uses biometrics to quickly move people through security lines. You can read more about the partnership here.

Can 911 Find You As Fast As Uber Can? If Not, Blame Our Mobile Infrastructure

Small-cell antennas are crucial for ensuring the public can get the information and help needed during an emergency, says Mike Montgomery.

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A whopping 95 percent of Americans own a mobile phone, and nearly two-thirds have a smartphone. That extra layer of communication should keep us safer in emergency situations, says Mike Montgomery, but only if first responders can trace our calls to our locations, and if warning systems are robust enough not to fail when we need them most.

(The wildfires that ravaged California last year with insufficient warning to some residents spring to mind as an example.)

“It is mind-boggling to think that more often than not, your pizza delivery person has more accurate location information than the paramedics — especially when you consider the fact that upwards of 80% of 911 calls originate from a mobile device,” says Montgomery, who argues that the first step in resolving the communications gap is updating our wireless infrastructure — in particular by deploying a network of small-cell antennas. Read what that entails here.

Unblocking 5G: New FCC Rules Make it Easier to Build Fast Networks

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By Kish Rajan

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted to kick-start 5G wireless networks in the United States by exempting them from some reviews that hinder installation.

It’s about time.

So far, the U.S. lags far behind the world leader — China — at getting 5G networks up and running. “There is a worldwide race to lead in 5G, and other nations are poised to win,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel acknowledged in January. It’s an embarrassing place for the country that invented the internet. But more than that, our hesitancy to streamline the process for installing vital infrastructure is costing us money, jobs and security.

Today, we’re coasting along on 4G long-term evolution (LTE) networks. Experts warned as far back as 2011 that 4G would be maxed out within four years because data demand was growing too fast to be accommodated by 4G bandwidth. And it’s not slowing. In the U.S., data usage will be seven times greater in 2021 than it was in 2016. By 2020, more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors will be connected to wireless networks. All this data is making 4G networks crowded, slow and spotty.

The annoying buffering while streaming video, the random dead zones and the snail-like pace of sending photos over text can be attributed to our inefficient and overwhelmed 4G networks. The more people using it, the slower it goes, which is why it’s often difficult to do anything on your phone in Los Angeles unless you’re on Wi-Fi.

5G networks are much more efficient at using spectrum. They’ll increase capacity 100 times or more over 4G and be able to move data at least 10 times faster, allowing for all sorts of real-time applications. And that’s just the beginning. 5G is vital to improved safety, reliability and economic development.

According to a 2017 Accenture report, smart cities and Internet of Things (IoT) improvements led by 5G capabilities have the potential to create $160 billion in benefits and savings. Then there’s the economic boost of building 5G networks. Accenture predicts that 5G could result in $275 billion in investments, create 3 million new jobs nationally and grow GDP by $500 billion.

Small cells can be easier and cheaper to install than traditional cell towers, but they rely on density to provide fast, reliable data service. A college football stadium, for example, needs 40 to 60 cells to provide full coverage. Unfortunately, building a 5G network isn’t as easy as it should be because there’s no federal standard. That means each state and municipality has its own series of complicated, confusing and contradictory rules covering installation.

Industry is prepared to deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells on utility poles throughout the country. But it can take as long as a year, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to navigate through cumbersome local and state regulations designed to govern 200-foot cell towers. These unobtrusive small cell solutions simply should not be compared to traditional cell towers.

The FCC ruling is a good start, as it will eliminate some of the repetitive and unnecessary review processes. In fact, Accenture estimates it will save $1.6 billion. But states need to get on board, too. It’s in their own best interests and those of their constituents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of American households now are cellphone only, which means they rely entirely on wireless networks for service. That explains why 80 percent of 911 calls are mobile. 5G networks will be a boon to first responders — and the people seeking help.

In California, despite being the national epicenter of innovation, we’re lagging behind. Last year a bill that would have helped the 5G industry was stopped due to concerns from local municipalities about installation of the cells. While local governments’ concerns most certainly need to be addressed, we can’t allow the 5G conversion to become mired in red tape.

It’s time for California to embrace 5G technology. As the world’s sixth-largest economy, California cannot simply keep pace with the rest of the country; it must instead set the national and global example. Let’s get to work.

Kish Rajan is chief evangelist for CALinnovates.