Can 5G+ healthcare be replicated on a large scale now? See what experts say

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Sergio Lacueva

During the outbreak of COVID-19 early this year, hospitals were increasingly reliant on 5G-enabled CT scans, remote consultations, and robots to fight the pandemic. With 5G, hospitals could cope with a drastic increase in patients while ensuring minimal contact. This helped balance the distribution of medical resources and ease pressure on both doctors and nurses.

However, as we began to see the value of 5G+ smart healthcare, the pandemic is still raging across the globe. We couldn't help wondering whether 5G+ healthcare has really arrived. Are relevant technologies and applications already mature? Is 5G+ healthcare ready for rapid replication?

At the 5G+ Better World Summit, Zhao Jie, director of the National Engineering Laboratory of Internet Medical Systems and Applications, and doctoral supervisor of the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University (FAHZU), explained the status of the hospital's 5G+ healthcare and detailed future plans. The hospital is a leader in China's 5G+ healthcare.

Exploration into 5G+ healthcare: Outstanding performance of FAHZU

Early in 2018, before 5G standards were frozen, the National Telemedicine Center of China partnered with Huawei and China's healthcare institutions at all levels on 5G+ healthcare research. FAHZU was among the first hospitals selected to join the project.

According to Zhao, during the fight against COVID-19, the National Telemedicine Center of China and industry players took just 82 hours to build a remote consultation system that connected FAHZU's 5G isolation wards with the isolation wards of 147 COVID-19-designated hospitals across 108 counties in 18 cities of Henan.

With the 5G remote consultation system, medical experts conducted over 200 remote ward rounds, held more than 2,000 remote consultations, and trained nearly 50,000 medical staff. Epidemic prevention was more efficient than anyone could have imagined.

The system was attributable to 5G networks. FAHZU had realized long before that 5G private networks could make smart healthcare possible thanks to a high bandwidth and low latency.

It's worth noting that the unique features of 5G networks, such as 5G slicing, security isolation, and intelligent O&M, can be applied in isolation wards for more efficient epidemic control.

FAHZU's network testing results showed that 5G standalone (SA) private networks can deliver gigabit-level downlink speeds, and uplink speeds of up to 180 Mbit/s, over 50% higher than non-standalone (NSA) networks. Users within the hospital experienced an average latency of 8ms, while latency between different areas within Henan averaged 14ms. This allowed 5G SA private networks to better satisfy different network requirements in different medical use cases.

Any technology, however good it may be, should be accurately used based on scenarios. According to Zhao, FAHZU explored how 5G can be applied in five scenarios: remote consultations, remote pathological diagnoses + AI-assisted image diagnoses, remote surgery guidance, ward round robots, and emergency rescue command center/5G-enabled ambulances. So far, the hospital has seen good results from 5G application in all five scenarios.

Going beyond 5G+ healthcare to 5G 2B

Based on the 5G+ healthcare development of FAHZU, we can predict three major development trends of the 5G 2B market.

First, 5G is ready to achieve business success. Technologically, 5G SA, super uplink, and other relevant technologies have matured. In terms of ecosystem, multiple vendors have launched 5G industrial modules, and a large number of 5G devices have entered commercial use, such as 5G CPE, cameras, and robots. Industries are actively exploring 5G business models to ensure all industry stakeholders can benefit from 5G. On top of that, 5G applications are becoming increasingly mature. Therefore, we have every reason to believe that 5G 2B has bright prospects.

Second, 5G technology can enable numerous industries. Technologies like 5G private lines and 5G campus camera backhaul have found extensive applications in scenarios that require basic connectivity. 5G applications are also blooming in other scenarios that require high bandwidth and low latency, including smart mining, smart drilling, smart port, and smart agriculture. That means 5G 2B is being rapidly replicated across various industries.

Third, 5G can help fight the pandemic and lift the economy. During the fight against COVID-19, 5G has helped quickly move social activities from offline to online, reducing human contact infection. More importantly, it enhanced the efficiency of infection detection through remote consultations and remote diagnoses. As the core of the digital economy, 5G can drive the digital transformation of industries, improve social efficiency and output, and accelerate post-coronavirus economic recovery.

Conclusion: Unleashing 5G potential to build a better world

China's New Infrastructure campaign pledges to develop seven 5G applications, including 5G+ smart healthcare systems for major public health emergencies.

All relevant parties are actively pushing 5G+ healthcare forward. There are currently over 200 5G hospitals in China, and that number will grow beyond hundreds of thousands in the future. FAHZU has set an excellent example in this area to unleash the potential of 5G.

FAHZU's example showed that 5G, as one of the critical infrastructures for the digital transformation of the economy and society, will integrate with multiple new technologies like cloud, IoT, big data, artificial intelligence, and AR/VR to advance 5G+ healthcare. Virtual doctors and remote hospitals will become a trend of the future, shaping a better world.

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