5G rollout brings to life the smart hospital

Rush University Medical Center
By collaborating with AT&T, Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center plans to become the first 5G-enabled hospital in the United States. (Xieyang Jessica Qiao/MEDILL)

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center partnered with AT&T to deploy a fifth-generation cellular network in hospital settings, capitalizing on 5G’s fast speeds to enhance access to care and improve efficiency.

5G is expected to operate in the millimeter wave band, which has a much higher frequency than current bands of spectrum, said Randall Berry, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University.

“The millimeter wave communication is going to be over shorter distances,” Berry said. “Instead of having a big base station that serves a large area, you might have what are called small cells, or smaller base stations that spread out over different areas.”

By tapping into the millimeter waves, 5G could bring better capacity and ultra-high speeds to wireless networks, while offering lower latency or delays, as low as 10 milliseconds round-trip, said Rod Cruz, AT&T’s general manager of healthcare industry solutions.

“Our goal is to have a nationwide mobile 5G footprint by the first half of 2020,” said Rod Cruz, general manager of healthcare industry solutions for AT&T. (Xieyang Jessica Qiao/MEDILL)

“5G will enable a lot of real-time applications that require less than a few milliseconds,” said Monisha Ghosh, research professor at the Institute for Molecular Engineering. “Once fully implemented and the latency is set up as promised, 5G will allow you real-time control even in remote locations.”

Another ingredient in 5G is the ability to glavanize massive device connectivity, which underpins the emerging idea of the Internet of Things. In health care settings, different sensors and smart devices could all be connected to the same cellular network and can communicate with one and other.

“When you combine these elements, you create an environment that can revolutionize health care,” Cruz said. “Imagine the scenarios where an MRI scan is downloaded within seconds, virtual visits with top doctors, rooms are intelligently scheduled, patient care is enhanced with AI, and AR [augmented reality] is used in training medical students.”

The project will kick off this month and continue throughout 2019 as Rush is poised to leverage AT&T’s 5G network, multi-access edge computing, and other advanced network technologies when they become available.

Dr. Shafiq Rab, senior vice president of Rush University Medical Center, said in a statement that 5G-based solutions will “support better hospital operations as well as provide the highest quality patient and staff experience.”

As AT&T plans to expand its 5G footprint in health care settings and nationwide, one hurdle is to build the overall wireless ecosystem delivering new technologies – chips, radios, devices – to support 5G, Cruz said.

“Rolling out something like 5G requires carriers, AT&T and Verizon, to put in new infrastructure all over the country,” Berry said. “It also requires end users to have devices that can speak to that new infrastructure.”

While futuristic applications such as remote surgery require the entire 5G network to be phased in and the latency setup to be delivered, the initial operation of 5G will be in conjunction with current 4G networks given the continuance between the two.

“It takes time to deploy new infrastructure in a new band,” Ghosh said. “But if it’s just having a much faster network to the university system, I think some of that might be possible by the end of 2019.”

Cruz said the beauty of the 5G revolution is that it involves a combination of different technologies, melting industry boundaries and creating solutions “that nobody could imagine before,” whether it’s to transform retail, make autonomous vehicles a reality, build smart factories or bring 5G-enabled hospitals.

“5G is arriving at the same time as other game-changing technologies are coming into their own, such as edge computing, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence,” Cruz said. “5G is not just another G.”

Photo at top: By collaborating with AT&T, Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center plans to become the first 5G-enabled hospital in the United States. (Xieyang Jessica Qiao/MEDILL)