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Mobile, medical and IoT devices; how do we ensure connectivity and security?

Following HETT we left you with 5 key questions and promised we would do our best to delve into each one in more detail.

Connectivity Security

Thomas Rowley

Thomas Rowley

Chief Technologist - Networking and Connectivity

Mobile, medical and IoT devices; how do we ensure connectivity and security?

Following HETT we left you with 5 key questions and promised we would do our best to delve into each one in more detail. First up is Tom covering; “Connectivity and security.”

To start to answer this question we need to begin with stating why this is a challenge for healthcare and why reliable connectivity is very important.

The Challenge:

The world of IT from a healthcare perspective is complex. There are a vast range of applications, services, and devices, which are applied to a plethora of use-cases over a relatively large geographical site. Some of these are legacy IT environments which cannot be changed but still need to interact with modern technology. The IT environment also services a variety of user profiles from back-office admin to medical staff, visitors, and patients all with their own unique requirements.

This, by its nature, brings complexity through a non-standardised approach to IT environments due to the flexibility and agility in demand. To add to this complex environment, we are now also on the precipice of large change in the form of Industry 4.0 which will usher in the world of IoT into enterprise organisations such as healthcare.

IoT in Healthcare:

In 2025 it is expected that over 50% of data generated globally will come from over 41 billion IoT devices. However, there is one thing that all these devices have in common, a need for reliable connectivity.

IoT can bring innovation to healthcare in many different applications such as the examples below:

Home Monitoring Systems  for patients allowing Doctors to monitor patients’ key health metrics like blood pressure more regularly and remotely.

- Robotic Surgery – enabling surgeons spread across a large geographical area to remove the need for travel and operate remotely. Even allowing IoT robots to undertake procedures which were historically difficult using human hands, which can reduce the size of incisions required to perform the surgery.

- Ingestible Sensors – the ability to collect data from inside the human body. No one enjoys a camera or probe being put into their digestive tract for example.

Although the above use cases are exciting but ultimately, they are just not possible unless the networking and connectivity is reliable given that the use cases are lifesaving. This means the network becomes the enabler for healthcare to adopt IoT at scale but forming a network which can be this agile and flexible while maintaining a consistent reliable network connection, is no small feat.

Traditional wired and wireless connectivity is used in healthcare today and in some cases used to connect IoT devices, but unfortunately, like all technology, it has its limitations from the perspectives of speed, latency, reliability, and the number of devices it can manage. The adoption of IoT will continue to increase the number of connected devices in healthcare. If you consider one hospital bed alone having up to 20 connected IoT devices and multiply that out by 1000 beds in a hospital, that is already an additional 20,000 connected devices in just one example.

Private Wireless:

To meet the rise of IoT, organisations are now beginning to explore innovative networking technologies, such as Private Wireless (also known as Private 5G).

Private Wireless in its most basic form uses the same wireless cellular technology which mobile phones connect to and allows organisations to broadcast their own private cellular signal. This technology has been around for some time, but adoption was low in previous iterations such as 3G and 4G.

The innovation of 5G technologies has changed the game for Private Wireless as it enables ultra-low latency (<1ms), faster speeds (up to 20Gbps), connectivity to more devices (up to 1 million), and a more reliable wireless network architecture. Private 5G can offer large geographical wireless coverage indoors and outdoors with circa 25% less radio infrastructure compared to traditional Wi-Fi.

The profile of advancements in Private Wireless map extremely well the needs of deploying IoT at scale, which has now opened the flood gates for industry to explore IoT use cases fuelled by pervasive Private 5G connectivity.

Does this mean traditional wireless for connecting everything is now legacy?

In short, the answer is not yet. Private 5G is an amazing technology but unfortunately it requires endpoint devices to be capable of receiving the cellular signal. It is possible to procure cellular adaptors for end user devices like Laptops, but this can add more complexity into an already complex world.

A more realistic approach in the medium-term is a hybrid one, where traditional end user devices connect to networks using traditional wireless, where the need for things like ultra-low latency to provide real-time data transmission is less of a requirement, and IoT devices connect to dedicated Private Wireless networks which can meet the needs for how these devices will be applied in industry.

What about security?

Security is another key driver for organisations adopting Private Wireless for IoT deployments. Historically any Operational Technology (OT) network has been ‘air-gapped’ from an organisations primary network, to achieve some level of security. Although this is still a good approach, Private Wireless can take this a step further by effectively segmenting the cellular network connecting these IoT devices. Rather than just deploying wireless VLANs like on traditional wireless, which logically segments a shared 2.5Ghz or 5Ghz frequency, Private Wireless allows organisations to segment wireless at a frequency and wavelength level providing better network segmentation, network control and improving security.

Furthermore, there are now vendors entering the market which take the same Zero-Trust principles from traditional networks and are applying these to OT / IoT networks, enabling secure authentication of devices. I am sure this is an area we will continue to see development in the market as the need and adoption for IoT continues to grow.

Ultimately, each organisation’s requirements are different and it’s important that we are looking to define and create an approach that is bespoke.

If this is an area you are looking at, please get in touch here.