Patient safety could be at risk unless GE Healthcare and other IT heavyweights persuade the Federal Communications Commission to protect the wireless medical telemetry channel from possible interference.
When cable converts to a digital signal in 2009, wireless frequencies called "white spaces" will become available, including channels 36 and 38, which are adjacent to the Wireless Medical Telemetry System (WMTS) that resides on channel 37, said Tim Kottack, engineering general manager for systems and wireless for GE Healthcare.
Kottack said while consumer technology companies are advocating that white spaces be used for next-generation wireless consumer devices, GE has petitioned the FCC to ensure that white spaces adjacent to the WMTS spectrum remain protected.
Some of the devices that might use channels 36 and 38 include technology that provides Internet access wirelessly to rural areas, high-powered gaming devices, and even some higher-powered smart phones and Internet devices, according to Kottack. Depending on the power of these devices, he said, their use could bleed over and cause interference with channel 37, interrupting patient monitoring devices.
"This involves wireless, life-critical patient monitoring," Kottack said. "We want to make sure that what happens with white spaces never interferes with patient care."
Wireless medical telemetry devices can monitor patients' physiological activity, including heart rate, blood pressure, electrocardiograms and other vital signs while allowing the patients to be ambulatory and still be monitored by nurses remotely, Kottack said.
"Hospitals are increasingly using these applications because they find people can get healthier faster if they're moving around," he said.
These television white spaces make up a spectrum that's largely unused in cities or municipalities if they don't have any channels in that spectrum, Kottack said. In 2000, with the use of mobile consumer devices and wireless medical telemetry technology increasing, and with a number of interference incidents already occurring, the FCC mandated that channel 37 be set aside specifically for the WMTS.
Kottack said GE Healthcare has raised its concerns with the FCC by submitting formal comments to the agency, as well as meeting with the FCC engineering office to explain and educate the agency on potential interference issues.
"One of our main recommendations is that because channel 37 is already the WMTS channel, that channels 36 and 38 are treated as 'guardband' and aren't available for use by certain high-powered consumer devices," Kottack said.
In addition to GE, consumer electronics companies and IT heavyweights such as Google have also acknowledged that channels 36 and 38 should be set aside to avoid interference, and that the FCC seems receptive, Kottack added.
The FCC is expected to issue a final decision on the issue in June 2008.