Skip to main content
Ericsson's President & CEO Hans Vestberg shows a 5G chip

How 5G networks can shape the future of health care

Editor’s Note: The Center for Technology Innovation will

host an event

 titled “The 5G network, the internet of things, and the future of health care” from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM EDT on July 19 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The following is a summary of a new paper, “How 5G technology enables the health internet of things” by Darrell West, that accompanies the event.

The internet of things (IoT) promises to create a global network of billions of data-collecting machines and mobile devices. Transmitting and processing all of the data in the rapidly growing IoT will require new wireless infrastructure with enhanced capabilities. In a new paper, Darrell West discusses how fifth generation (5G) wireless technology will provide the backbone for IoT that greatly improves data transfer speeds and processing power over its predecessors. This combination of speed and computing power will enable new applications for mobile technologies, especially in health care. Rather than travelling to a doctor or specialist for expensive medical treatments, IoT allows patients to receive care nearby and in real time. Health IoT has the potential to improve outcomes by expanding access to medical treatments and reducing the cost to patients and taxpayers.

5G networks will combine numerous wireless technologies, such as 4G, Wi-Fi, and millimeter wave technology to push mobile connection speeds over 100 megabits per second. Instead of point-to-point communications provided by legacy mobile networks, 5G will move packets of data following the most efficient path to their destination. This shift enables real time aggregation and analysis of data, moving wireless technology from communication to computing. On-demand cloud computing and network function virtualization both decrease the cost of creating services that leverage 5G technology. The advent of 5G will expand networks far beyond computers and smartphones to include everything from driverless cars to medical devices.

5G networks open up new avenues for the delivery of health care. Instead of bringing patients to a doctor for treatment, 5G networks can connect patients and doctors from across the globe. Connecting more medical devices to IoT will enable doctors to monitor patients without the need for costly in-patient care. Digital imaging can be sent anywhere in the world for analysis, expanding access for patients who live far away from health care providers and lowering the cost of getting a second opinion. Wearable devices, much like the already-popular fitness trackers, can transmit vital statistics to doctors and alert them to changes immediately. In addition to expanding treatment options, IoT will provide medical researchers with more data on how diseases impact individuals so they can customize treatments to specific cases.

The barriers to the rollout of 5G networks are not merely technological; regulations must also pave the way for faster networks that do not compromise privacy and security. As industry groups agree on technical standards for new wireless technologies, telecommunications regulators like the Federal Communications Commission must free up new wireless spectrum. Meanwhile, the addition of medical devices to IoT will require the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate their effectiveness for treating patients. Finally, health insurance reimbursement rules must be changed so that in-patient care is not privileged over telemedicine. Combining new technologies with appropriate regulations will unleash the potential of 5G to lower costs and improve outcomes in health care.

Read the full paper on 5G technology and the health internet of things and

sign up to attend

the event at Brookings on July 19.



Get daily updates from Brookings