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Kaiser tells medical device makers should use WiFi

08 Dec 2014  | Rick Merritt

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Kaiser Permanente, an integrated managed health care consortium, is strongly endorsing the use of WiFi in health facilities. In fact, it is testing a cellular network using small cells, but is trying to keep Bluetooth devices off its widely deployed, and crowded 2.4GHz network.

Shawn M. Jackman, director of wireless product management and engineering at Kaiser Permanente, said device makers should leverage WiFi, especially the 5GHz version. Like many hospitals, Kaiser finds it pervasive, cheap, yet relatively reliable and secure. Devices should be tested rigorously for environments with many access points, security models, and consumer and clinical applications, he said.

"Everything is going wireless. Our care givers are inherently mobile, they don't sit around a desk, so the appetite for mobile is huge," he indicated.

Jackman was bearish on bonding schemes for creating broadband 160MHz channels in 802.11ac. He noted he has not even tapped into the 20MHz channels needed available under .11n yet. And the 60GHz .11ad standard is so far a non-starter given its limited range and penetration.

In the 2.4GHz band, Kaiser maintains a guest network and several other services, leading to an overcrowded spectrum with Bluetooth currently losing the battle for air space. On the horizon, he sees a collision of 2.4GHz accessories.

"I'm watching this wearables thing and its coming at me like a freight train," he said.

Jackman said he is thumbs down on patient systems using Bluetooth, at least for data transfers.

"If your device is in the hospital, don't use Bluetooth. You will get excluded from more environments than you will be allowed in. If it goes home and won't come back into the hospital, Bluetooth is OK. Inside the hospital it's my goal to make WiFi available to you."

He made an exception for Bluetooth's beacon capability which he said can be useful for indoor way-finding and other location apps that revert to WiFi to send data. It's also used in some accessories such as bar code scanners.

Jackman noted the latest version, Bluetooth 4.0 aka Bluetooth Low Energy more intelligently uses spectrum to avoid WiFi conflicts. "BLE is one of the fastest growing areas I have seen in a long time and I'm very aggressive on it," he said.

Bluetooth generates interference with WiFi in the 2.4GHz band

Bluetooth (especially versions prior to 4.0) can generate significant interference with WiFi in the 2.4GHz band, Jackman said.

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