Healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente considering private LTE network
Kristan Kline is in charge of network strategy for Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan with 12 million members, 39 hospitals and $84 billion in revenue. He recently completed Cornell University’s 5G for Business online program, but when he thinks about how wireless technology can solve business problems for Kaiser, 5G isn’t the only technology that he is keeping an eye on.
“I think that story is starting to become a lot more solid with CBRS,” he said, pointing to the newly free 3.5GHz spectrum band, dubbed the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). “There’s a lot more people talking about 5G and that is interesting because it has great promise in the macro, but the 5G story is not as clear inside buildings,” he said, adding that the premiere 5G use case of robotic surgery is not something he expects to see in his career.
Patient monitoring and critical communications are the use cases that Kline needs to support with robust networking technologies. Currently, most Kaiser Permanente connected devices use cables, dedicated wireless frequencies, or Wi-Fi. “We’ve been progressing Wi-Fi because we have to be really good at it and we’re going to have to be really good at it going forward, but I see this impending wave of additional devices and we’re going to have to have an answer to ‘how do we deal with that?’ ” said Kline. “CBRS came at the right time to be a potential answer.”
Why is CBRS of interest when the government has already set aside specific frequency bands for wireless medical telemetry? Kline said medical equipment makers find it costly to operate these one-off networks and many of them want to reconfigure their devices for Wi-Fi, since Wi-Fi is already in place at most hospitals. Kline predicts that device makers will try Wi-Fi and ultimately decide they need higher service levels and more security.
“Private LTE will show up I think as a good choice as they work through it,” he said. Indeed, the CBRS band has been touted as ideal for such indoor, private wireless LTE networks.
Kline knows he will have a hard time convincing Kaiser’s finance teams to invest in a private wireless network in the CBRS spectrum band until medical devices with CBRS radios come to market. But device makers are unlikely to support the technology until networks are in place. “I’m trying to short circuit some of that with discussions with various partners and vendors that we have,” Kline said.
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