Column: Will the health sector be the real winner in the 5G race?

By Naeem Zahid, Senior Business Developer e-Health and Dr. Patrick Waldemar, VP and Head of Technology at Telenor Research

Published: 22 January 2019 09:25

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last year Telenor launched its 5G pilot network, turning Kongsberg into the first city in Scandinavia to run the fifth generation technology. Globally, we see races in which several cities are becoming test centers of 5G, involving everyone from equipment suppliers, multiple industrial sectors and telecommunications.

5G can be distinguished from earlier technologies in three key areas: it provides opportunities to deliver very high data speeds, it allows for a denser network and it delivers very high reliability with fewer network delays. This new technology also opens up possibilities to be able to slice the network into dedicated, monitored sub-networks for selected functions and sectors.

Such capabilities are especially important in functions like automating production facilities and self-driving vehicles. We believe that the health sector can also become one of the biggest beneficiaries of widespread 5G coverage.

The transfer of huge amounts of data that a 5G network would be able to handle can be applicable in medical services such as radiology. The increased density of sensors would be able to support broad digital applications used for the benefit of patients in hospitals and clinics. Fewer network delays would mean that remotely controlled robots could make diagnoses and treat patients in hard to reach areas. Additionally, a dedicated emergency network – sliced from within a 5G network – would be possible, safe and reliable. Emergency service personnel would be able to communicate across various agencies not only via audio, but on high-resolution video. In areas where health services have been shut down or relocated to large cities, 5G will be able to come to the rescue, allowing caregivers to continue delivering emergency services – remotely, wherever patients live.

Where healthcare and mobile technology converge

The many opportunities that emerge at the intersection of mobile technology and healthcare will be extremely valuable for the fast-growing health sector in Norway. There will be new and widespread areas for startups, established companies and research institutions alike to pursue and develop, and we can look forward to even more new services and service models, like large-scale trainings of health personnel via streaming and high-resolution video for real-time simulations and exercises. The potential for programmes like these is why the Oslo University Hospital (Rikshospitalet), a research center for new technologies, will be the next area for 5G coverage. Telenor leads a pan-European research and innovation project, 5G-Vinni, in which the Oslo University Hospital is now taking part. The hospital is testing opportunities that leverage new 5G technologies and is in dialogue with key stakeholders on the needs for 5G-driven communications services. One of the areas to be tested as part of the programme is in remotely controlling ultrasound machines.

Weaker data security has often been the cause of slow technology uptake within the healthcare sector. The 5G network could solve this problem by providing better security in many of the technologies that we use today. In contrast to Wifi which operates on open frequencies, the 5G network operates on a licensed frequency band with strong security in operations and services. With a slice of the 5G network, where one slice is reserved exclusively for health services, one will be able to secure health data and limit access to only authorized parties. In sum, the high reliability of 5G will provide more secure services, minimal network disruptions and more capacity.

In the long-term, 5G-driven services will add value to the health sector and countless benefits to the economy, not to mention ease everyday life for medical patients and caregivers. 5G will be a world-changing technology that can only bring benefits. If the health sector is able to fully leverage the opportunities that 5G presents, it will be a clear winner.

This column was originally published in Norwegian in Dagens Næringsliv on 16 January 2019 (