Early 5G implementations have aided the Covid-19 response by supporting mobile health centres. As the technology matures, it promises to advance medical devices through increased speeds, reliability, bandwidth, and lower latency compared to the preceding 4G. These improvements may revolutionise hospital and medical device design, enhancing patient care.
The fifth generation of cellular technology standard, commonly referred to as 5G, is expected to significantly improve the capabilities of medical devices through three main benefits. First, 5G has greatly increased speed, with expected user-experienced data rates increased from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps compared to 4G, enabling faster data transfers. Second, the technology has increased reliability and lowered latency to one millisecond, enabling real-time data monitoring. Third, 5G has a tenfold-increased bandwidth so that up to 1,000,000 devices can be connected per square kilometre.
Early implementations of 5G have largely focused on capitalising on individual benefits. For example, 5G’s increased speeds facilitated the early Covid-19 response in Wuhan, China. At the time, physicians and researchers needed to collect data from computed tomography (CT) scans to better understand the disease. To do so, scans would need to be conducted in disease hotspots, all without compromising on the safety of providers and their patients. 5G-enabled mobile CT scanning facilities allowed scans to be completed and quickly sent from hotspots, providing doctors with valuable insights into the disease.
As 5G matures, future hospitals and devices will be designed to fully utilise every aspect of the new technology. KT Corporation and Samsung Medical Center have already partnered to develop a 5G-powered smart hospital focused around collecting, transferring, and analysing large amounts of data to improve patient care. The increased bandwidth will support additional on-body sensors on patients, providing physicians with a variety of real-time data so they can make informed decisions. 5G-connected cameras in operating rooms enable high-quality video and audio streams to be shared, improving the teaching environment for students, facilitating collaborations / consultations with other physicians and potentially enabling future technologies such as 5G-controlled remote robotic surgeries.
While the technology is still in its infancy, it has already had an immediate impact. As it advances and adoption increases, the increased speeds, reliability, bandwidth, and lower latency that 5G provides will revolutionise current healthcare models and support new forms of patient care.