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Soon, a stay in intensive care will no longer mean being physically tethered to every monitoring device imaginable. The Federal Communications Commission has designated a slice of radio airwaves for medical body area networks, which will allow hospitals to cut the cord on electrocardiogram, neo-natal and other patient monitoring equipment.
The FCC has designated 40 megahertz in the 2.3 GHz frequency band for short-range, wideband transmission within medical facilities and homes. The idea is that cumbersome instruments and their accompanying cords can be replaced with lightweight, disposable sensors, allowing patients more freedom of movement as well as hospitals to keep their patients constantly monitored no matter where they happen to be.
While using the radio waves to assist in monitoring and caring for patients isn’t a new phenomenon, this is the first a government has specifically designated a band specifically for this kind of body area medical telemetry. According to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski it will allow medical device makers to consolidate many of the technologies they have developed on wide array on unlicensed or multi-use frequencies into a single medical band.
“This creative use of spectrum provides wireless health manufacturers with the certainty they need to streamline their product development, which for many years operated on a variety of frequencies,” Genachowski said. “I expect it will eventually lead to technologies not just for health care facilities, but also for inhume use.”
The allocation is also significant because the band isn’t exclusive to medical devices. Health sensors will have to share it with its original occupant, commercial test pilots. With the cooperation of the Department of Defense and the governments spectrum manager the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the FCC hammered out a way to divvy up the spectrum by use case, allowing the health care industry to use it within the confines of the home and the aeronautics industry to use it in the skies above.
It’s an interesting development as the government is starting to get serious about the idea of sharing spectrum between government and commercial uses. The NTIA is proposing that mobile operators and the government agencies split time on the next big block of spectrum identified for mobile broadband use. The wireless industry isn’t exactly hot on the idea, though it has pledged to work with the government.