The Federal Communication Commission announced this week its rules for the use of wireless spectrum by medical body area network (MBAN) wireless sensors. The success or failure of this initiative could prove – or disprove – the workability of FCC’s future plans for divvying up the limited and increasingly crowded communication spectrum.
There is a finite amount of space in the electromagnetic spectrum that can be used for communication. It currently serves all kinds of functions, such as cellular communication, radio transmissions and small device connectivity. As consumers and industry grow increasingly reliant on these functions, the wireless spectrum grows more crowded.
To deal with this spectrum crush, the FCC and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a proposal in July that would change the way entities make use of spectrum. Rather than granting a cellphone company or a radar installation exclusive rights to a defined segment of the spectrum, the plan calls for the sharing of bandwidth. Enter the new rules for MBAN wireless sensors. The FCC regulations on MBANs specify that these wireless patient monitoring devices will share spectrum with aeronautical telemetry systems and amateur radio operators, making it one of the first technologies to test the concept of spectrum sharing.
The MBAN rules state that wireless monitoring devices will operate on a “secondary, non-interference basis.” This means that the wireless signals of other operators within the frequencies shared by MBANs will be given precedence. The rule requires that MBAN devices be able to slide their signals to whatever spectrum is available within a defined range.
Federal officials have said that asking users to share spectrum, rather than granting exclusive use, could multiply the amount of data that is transmitted wirelessly in the coming years. It may be worth keeping an eye on how well MBAN devices are able to perform in this new environment. If patients and doctors start reporting that devices are not able to send data to networks because of a lack of available bandwidth – or because of interference issues — it could call into question the way the FCC is approaching spectrum sharing. On the other hand, MBANs could provide the proof federal regulators need to show that spectrum sharing is the wave of the future.