Glimpse the Future of Medicine at a Cell-Phone Convention: What is 4G?

The annual cell-phone (I should say wireless) convention of the year just wound up over at CTIA in Vegas. Usually these meeting spark some idea in me due to a new device or new wireless technology such as a universal wireless device charger, or an image recognition and analysis system that can lead to a future medical device. No such individual device or software at this meeting- but much bigger I am amazed at the awesome potential of the next generation wireless system in general: 4G wireless. This always on technology promises a wireless future where multiple devices that are always on will pull and deliver all sorts of data from your patients or surgical devices. A 4G system will be able to provide a comprehensive solution where voice, data and streamed multimedia can be given to users on an “Anytime, Anywhere” basis, and at higher data rates.

My analysis of the awards given out at CTIA was struck by the focus on developing 4G technologies.

First some background definitions – What is 4G: The History of Wireless Cell-phone Technologies: Briefly the first generation systems were analog based (1G). 2G second generation systems were the first that were all digital. Reported advantages of digital 2G systems are voice data can be compressed more effectively than allowing more calls to be packed into the same amount of radio bandwidth and they required less radio power.

3G systems promised: (such as Verizon’s EV-DO)

  1. Enhanced multimedia (voice, data, video, and remote control).

  2. Usability on all popular modes (cellular telephone, e-mail, paging, fax, videoconferencing, and Web browsing).

  3. Broad bandwidth and high speed (upwards of 2 Mbps).

  4. Roaming capability throughout Europe, Japan, and North America

Why 4G Will Transform Medicine & Surgery: Let me be the first to ring the bell for the promise of 4G in medicine. It has been written that it is expected that end-to-end intenet lanuage (IP) based system and high-quality streaming video will be among 4G’s distinguishing features. Fourth generation networks are likely to use a combination of WiMAX and WiFi- like your high speed wireless internet at home. The explosive potential is:

When fully implemented, 4G is expected to enable pervasive computing, in which simultaneous connections to multiple high-speed networks provide seamless handoffs throughout a geographical area. Network operators may employ technologies such as cognitive radio and wireless mesh networks to ensure connectivity and efficiently distribute both network traffic and spectrum.

4G networks, when coupled with cellular phones equipped with higher quality digital cameras and even HD capabilities, will enable vlogs to go mobile, as has already occurred with text-based moblogs. New models for collaborative citizen journalism are likely to emerge as well in areas with 4G connectivity.

In medicine this means you can have surgical devices, electronic medicial records, imaging devices, and your cell-phone like handheld all communicating and sharing info at broadband speeds in HD.

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