FCC urged to approve body area network plan

Healthcare, aeronautics industries come to meeting of minds over spectrum proposed for FCC's wireless MBAN plan

Healthcare providers and aeronautics industry association members this month urged the Federal Communications Commission to quickly approve their plan for setting aside bandwidth for so-called mobile body area network technology, or MBAN.

The FCC proposed an MBAN network as part of its first national broad plan that was unveiled last year.

The frequencies sought for the MBAN network are currently used by several private and public sector organizations for aeronautical mobile telemetry and federal radiolocation tasks, and by amateur radio users.

The aeronautics industry, led by the Aerospace & Flight Test Radio Coordinating Council (AFTRCC), had initially put up the greatest resistance to the MBAN proposal. The group argued that aircraft and aeronautical equipment manufacturers use the radio bands to dispatch telemetry information during aircraft testing.

Over the past six months, however, healthcare industry officials and AFTRCC, which represents manufacturers such as Raytheon, Boeing and Cessna, reached an agreement on mitigation measures that would help manage any interference that could result from sharing the wireless spectrum.

AFTRCC now supports the MBAN proposal, said Delroy Smith, technical product design lead for Philips Healthcare's informatics and patient-monitoring business.

"The big issue is device control. One of the fundamental fears is we were going to have millions of these devices around the country polluting their spectrum. They need the spectrum to be clean in order to be safe," Smith said.

The MBAN radio spectrum would create a wireless body sensor network for remotely monitoring critically and chronically ill people via small wireless devices so that medical workers can track the person's health status as well as take swift action in emergencies.

The disposable, wireless devices would monitor an array of physiological data, such as temperature, pulse, blood glucose level, blood pressure, and respiratory function.

Representatives of Philips Healthcare, GE Healthcare and AFTRCC met this month with members of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology to present joint healthcare and aeronautics industry modifications to the FCC's proposed rules.

Smith said that 96% of hospitals aren't near aeronautical mobile telemetry (AMT) operations and thus wouldn't affect radio traffic. Under the agreement, the remaining healthcare facilities would create a plan to notify AMT operations of MBAN use and follow a procedure to halt any disruptions to aeronautical traffic.

The proposed rules also include methods for centrally controlling wireless healthcare devices by using electronic keys to limit who can access the spectrum.

Like Bluetooth, an MBAN would use short-length radio waves, rather than cables, to communicate over short distances. The bandwidths being requested for MBANs -- 2360-2400 MHz; 2300-2305 MHz and 2395-2400 MHz; 2400-2483.5 MHz; or 5150-5250 MHz -- reside next those now used by Bluetooth devices.

In addition, the modifications proposed by the industry representatives would use the 2390-2400 MHz range as a secondary MBAN network when the primary frequencies interfere with aeronautical industry communications.

The healthcare industry expects that use of MBAN networks could prevent many health problems. For example, monitors could quickly identity a staph infection before it leads to sepsis, which kills some 200,000 people annually in the U.S., according to the Surviving Sepsis Campaign.

While the FCC plan calls for first using the MBAN spectrum only in hospitals, medical instrument vendors say that over the longer term, they could be used at home, where 80% of healthcare services are delivered. Patients could use home entertainment systems, such as Wii or Nintendo video game platforms, to help collect medical data and then transmit it to servers to be accessed by physicians.

MBAN won't be feasible for home use until wireless monitoring devices become cheap enough that hospitals don't need them back, and rugged enough keep operating as long as the treatment lasts.

The FCC is expected to decide on the MBAN final rules this year.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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