Private LTE vs. Wi-Fi for Healthcare: Comparison & Use Cases

If there is ever an example of a high-pressure environment in which to create a communication network, it must be healthcare. Whether it’s coordinating care across the many departments of a hospital or allowing the family of patients to access the internet effectively while they are anxiously awaiting news, it’s a vital arena in which to provide effective network cover.

Two of the most common strategies adopted in this setting are the use of traditional WiFi or private LTE networks. While there are pros and cons to both strategies, as we’ll explain, most of the advantages pertain to the latter option. 

First, let’s look at what constitutes a Private LTE network and a WiFi network within a healthcare setting, and then discuss some use cases, and the unique requirements of each healthcare environment.

WiFi in a Commercial Healthcare Setting

The most obvious advantage of incorporating WiFi into a healthcare setting is that the technology is easy to implement. Everyone knows how WiFi works, because it’s what most of us use at home. Patients and their families can easily log onto the guest network built into a hospital or surgery’s WiFi, provided they have the password.

Unfortunately, ease of access and comprehension are really the only big advantages. As we know all too well, WiFi can suffer from dropout, latency issues, throughput problems and coverage difficulties. There’s little point in implementing a communications strategy in a large healthcare facility if there are areas where coverage is patchy at best.

WiFi is of course dependent upon the resources and delivery capabilities of whichever mobile carrier is providing the service. Pricing strategies can be relatively fixed and intractable. There can also be security worries with WiFi networks too.

To make WiFi work in a hospital setting, a commercial-grade WLAN would be required, and even then, challenges remain. Hospitals tend to be large-scale, multilevel complexes spread across large sites. Getting a WLAN network to reach every part of such a site efficiently and securely is very challenging.

RF-blockage is a real problem with reinforced concrete and steel structures, lead-lined X-ray and radiology facilities and tower-block structures. However, perhaps the biggest problem that clinics and hospitals face is throughput. 

Imagine the vast quantity of data a CT scanner can generate when running a brain scan. Transmitting this efficiently from the imaging department to the ward where a consultant is consulting an iPad to explain something vital to a patient, is paramount. A high-resolution 3D image from a CT-scanner can be 350GB or more in size. While data flow is prioritized for this purpose, the rest of a WiFi network may become close to unusable.

The Advantages of Private LTE in Healthcare Settings

Expansive throughput is readily achievable with a Private LTE network, simply because it can be designed for the specific requirements of your use case. If you need to emphasis throughput, a well-designed 5G/Private LTE network can cope with speeds of up to 10Gbps, which should satisfy the data requirements of most imaging systems, as well as the demands of multiple IoT devices all feeding into the same network.

Another big plus with a Private LTE network in healthcare settings is its performance in an emergency. While commercial WiFi networks can be strained in high-demand situations, a 5G network set up to cover a single facility, or group of buildings, can deliver all the performance you need, even when hundreds of doctors, nurses, patients, and their families are all drawing upon the service at once.

Continuity can be maintained during an emergency such as a flood, earthquake, or power outage, because the hardware is locally managed, and accessible for on-site repairs or servicing. You are not reliant upon a mobile provider’s transmission towers, or cabling.

Because Private LTE networks can broadcast on a reserved frequency in the US (Citizen’s Band Radio Service or CBRS) of 3550 to 3700MHz, they don’t interfere with other networks as much as alternative carriers’ signals. The software and firmware that controls them can be set to prioritize certain data sources over others (so your radiography department can queue-jump patients streaming movies).

Security can be set-up to the exact specifications of a particular use case. For instance, if you’re running a cancer treatment center or a plastic surgery clinic, you probably want to ensure the highest levels of security to prevent data leaks or breaches. Because control over an LTE network’s set-up is handed to each organization, rather than a national phone carrier, you can set it up any way you like, requiring passwords, MFA, or biometric access if that’s appropriate.

Finally, the modular nature of Private LTE means that it can be augmented or added to when your healthcare facility expands or changes. Relying upon a simple base station and set of easy to install microwave or radio transmission towers, the hardware can be put in place in a matter of days.

Some Sample Use Cases for Private LTE/5G in Healthcare Settings

Let’s look at some typical healthcare applications, to give you an idea of just how versatile these networks can be.

IoT in a Hospital

Hospitals must be flexible, particularly in trauma departments and other critical services. For this reason, they often use wireless IoT devices which can be wheeled or carried to where they are most needed. This can result in clusters of devices all drawing upon local data resources simultaneously, sometimes in places where WiFi coverage would be challenging.

Private LTE is flexible enough, and its signal strength sufficiently penetrative, to reach every floor or outpost of even the largest hospital. IoT devices can be used with confidence wherever they are needed.

Privacy in a Residential Detox Center

The residents of luxurious rehab facilities can often be celebrities or well-known public figures. These patients require absolute privacy and are vulnerable to information leaks. With private LTE, it becomes possible to institute a records access policy that adds enhanced security measures to prevent unauthorized attempts to log onto the LTE network.

Furthermore, additional measures can be installed to prevent external cybercrime or hacking, with local administrators fully in charge of both internal and external security.

Improved Throughput in Remote Clinics

If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s the necessity of being able to operate high demand healthcare facilities such as vaccination centers or blood donation sites in unusual settings such as sports halls, church halls or other temporary venues. 

Private LTE networks can be assembled quickly to deliver reliable 5G services within days. Without adding strain to local WiFi networks, these temporary measures can be set up to deliver high-volume services with excellent throughput quickly. Latency is not an issue – while WiFi may struggle to respond to a request in under 500 milliseconds, Private LTE/5G can achieve data delivery with latency of 5-30 milliseconds.

Additionally, Private LTE permits automated local switching and hand-off between radio towers within the network, to ensure you always receive an adequate signal across your site. Even in high-density urban neighborhoods or mountainous environs, a well-designed Private LTE network with well-positioned radio towers will perform excellently.

Conclusion: Private LTE Delivers Reliably in Healthcare

All in all, there’s simply no contest. The huge increase in IoT reliance and recent advances in medical technology require more secure, better performing and maximally flexible communication networks. Fortunately, that is exactly what Private LTE (particularly with 5G) provides.

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