By now most people have at least heard the term 5G floating around. But many are still left with more questions than answers: What is 5G? How does it work? What makes it different than 4G? When will we see it? How will it impact the healthcare industry? Have no fear, we are here to provide some clarity!How did we get to 5G?Before we dive into what 5G is and what it means for the health care industry, let’s explore how we got here. "G" stands for generation, so 5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology. The graphic below does a good job of explaining the evolution of wireless.
Source: System One
When not connected to WiFi, a 4G LTE connection is what most of us currently use for anything that requires an internet connection on our mobile devices - calls, texts, email, etc.
5G is a new software-defined wireless network that operates largely in the cloud. The result is more than 100x more capacity that 4G networks. In a nutshell, it means much faster speeds with far lower latency.
For example, if you want to download a 2-hour movie on 3G it would take a whopping 26 hours. With 4G, you are down to 6 minutes. But with 5G, you are only looking at just 3.6 seconds.
For a world that has become reliant on the internet to function, the reduction in time delay is critical. While 4G network sees command responses in just under 50 milliseconds, that jumps down to only 1 millisecond with 5G, which is 400x faster than the blink of an eye! This reduction in latency will challenge what we consider possible and is expected to be the catalyst that brings data-intensive applications, like autonomous vehicles, into the mainstream.
The first two 5G-compatible mobile phones, the Moto Z3 and Samsung Galaxy S10, were released earlier this year. Meanwhile, AT&T and other carriers have been quietly running trials of 5G hotspots with businesses in various cities across the country, preparing for broader commercial availability. Realistically, expect the big 5G applications to crop up around 2021 or 2022, but analysts predict that by 2025 nearly half of mobile connections in the U.S. will be via 5G.
Now on to the million-dollar question. Just as it promises to increase speeds and reduce latency for consumers, 5G technology also has the potential to transform how health care is delivered. Especially as the use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies continue to grow, the amount of data on networks is also expected to continue to skyrocket.
Telemedicine requires a network that can support real-time high-quality video, which today is limited to wired networks. Video lag is not only frustrating for those using it but the poor quality can delay patient care, hurting outcomes in the long run.
With faster service also comes the ability to provide new value-add to the conversation. Take real-time language translation, for example. This could mean a doctor in Indiana can take care of patients in foreign countries, regardless of language barriers.
With 5G, health care systems can enable mobile networks to handle telemedicine appointments, which can greatly increase the reach of these programs. Patients can often be treated sooner and gain access to specialists otherwise not available. It also enables doctors and other staff members to collaborate more efficiently and effectively.
By using IoT devices, health care providers can monitor patients and gather data that can be used to improve personalized and preventive care. Slow network speeds and unreliable connections could mean doctors are unable to get the real-time data they need to make quick health care decisions.
5G networks will enable the transfer of more complicated and robust patient data from remote locations. The extremely low latency can facilitate reliable home care, such as home ICUs or hospitals-as-a-home settings. In other words, the more reliable remote monitoring becomes, the more patient care can be moved out of the hospital. For example, a doctor can be alerted in real-time if a patient's blood pressure spikes while they are at home. Providers can be confident they will receive the data they need in real-time and are able to intervene before serious complications arise.
MRI machines and other imaging equipment typically produce very large files that must be shared with various specialists. When the network is low on bandwidth, the transmission can take a long time or not send successfully. This means the patient waits even longer for treatment and providers can see fewer patients in the same amount of time. With 5G, files could become instantly available via mobile devices. This opens up opportunities for providers to easily share large imaging files without taxing their network, furthering the ability to collaborate about patients in order to provide better and quicker care.
Ultimately, 5G is a catalyst that will support a decentralized health care ecosystem by making operations more reliable and accessible, further accelerating the industry trend toward providing care outside of the hospital.