Need More Wireless Spectrum for Telehealth Innovation


To improve cellular signal strength, put your phone high up, but don't hold it or put it near your head.The lack of good cellular connections threatens the future of mobile healthcare solutions. I once got 5 bars on a regular basis, but the wireless signal in my neighborhood has diminished to the point that I’m lucky to get one bar or any connection at all. I took my problem to the AT&T store and showed them a picture of me outside, outside in my PJs standing under an umbrella in the rain to get enough signal to make a call. The headphones I wore prevented my head from blocking the signals, and the phone itself was dangling from a tree branch so my hands weren’t touching the phone.  AT&T finally relented and gave me a micro-cell device to connect to my broadband connection and act like a mini cell tower for my home. Now I get 5 bars again. Do you still get 5 bars? Consistently?

Rising demand for wireless broadband Internet access has created a spectrum crisis that jeopardizes economic productivity, job growth, innovation, and societal gains. Cellular networks once dedicated to voice calls are now used for streaming music, downloading apps, and sharing photos and videos. Mobile data access is consuming much more bandwidth than voice calls and taxing network capacity. We need a national imperative to allocate additional spectrum for wireless broadband, because it will produce numerous economic and societal benefits. Failure to do that could result in wireless data gridlock.

This was the message in Broadband Spectrum: The Engine for Innovation, Job Growth, and Advancement of Social Priorities, a policy paper by the Telecommunications Industry Association TIA. As a broadband and wireless evangelist myself, I highly endorse the paper’s recommendations and include the healthcare portion below.


Wireless technology has improved healthcare management in the United States.

First, wireless devices have expanded the availability of medical services into previously unserved areas. Physicians can utilize mobile tablets to access patient data wirelessly, in real-time from a portable medical chart. Similarly, medical workers can now utilize a high-magnification microscope attachment (the “CellScope”) for cell phones to take images for analysis. This device takes pictures at up to 50x magnification, enough to see red blood cells and the parasite that causes malaria. Newer versions of the scope will diagnose tuberculosis, skin conditions, dangerous insect bites and abnormal mole growth.

Second, wireless technology has empowered patients to monitor their health. Examples of such healthcare improvements include:

  • Glucose Meters: These meters transmit daily glucose readings to a patient’s caregiver and relays daily coaching to the patient.
  • Monitoring Asthma: A wireless peak flow meter for asthma combines monitoring technology with wireless communications. Physicians can be alerted when a patient falls below respiratory flow safe levels or when a patient stops testing.
  • Medicine Compliance: Programs can remind patients by email or text to take medicines and conduct remote monitoring. Voice-interactive systems can also ask questions key to treatment and deliver the answers to a care provider.

Third, wireless technologies can be used to protect the public from epidemics and to monitor for chemical and biological agents. The Center for Disease Control is using emerging mobile technologies to increase the dissemination and potential impact of CDC’s information and tailoring specific health messages to meet unique challenges, such as the response to H1N1 and natural disasters such as hurricanes. New technology also will permit wireless devices to “sniff” for chemical or biological agents in the air and alert homeland security and medical officials before patients become symptomatic from exposure. Each of these health-related applications generally depends upon the timely exchange of information and could be jeopardized by wireless data gridlock, a critical problem that can only be solved by providing additional spectrum for broadband.