“The problem about spectrum is we’re talking about extremely intensive applications, bandwidth intensive applications, that require a lot of data. Spectrum is a finite resource we only have so much of it we can’t provision more of it and spectrum is available we think there is some really good opportunities to expand what is available to the carriers. But we have to have spectrum we have to have the air. You can look at it like highway think of it in those terms. we have highways in this country and it has a number of lanes and that will handle a certain amount of traffic. With spectrum that is our model those are our lanes and we know we have a lot more traffic coming than we currently have”
John Walls, CTIA Vice President of Public Affairs, explaining to policymakers how “mHealth solutions are often bandwidth-intensive applications that need more spectrum” and how “the rapidly dwindling supply of spectrum threatens to hinder or even prevent access to medical care communication” at the “Mobile Health: Innovations in Care & the Spectrum Challenge” that took place this week in Washington DC.
I think this is a wildly inaccurate representation of the facts and highlights a naive approach to understanding the real needs:
1) “we’re talking about extremely intensive applications, bandwidth intensive applications, that require a lot of data”
I’m not convinced that this is what mHealth represents and I think it could be counterproductive for the mHealth industry to be suggesting this. I think through design that incorporates foresight it can be an opportunity to manage network demand increase the variety of user profiles that will help telcos manage data volumes.
Of course there are plenty of technologists who evangelise dreamily about mHealth devices that can continuously upload vast quantities of bio data but the reality is very different. I think the step change is going to become more obvious in the very near future when we all wake up and realise patients already have smartphones and with that reliable computational processing and data storage power in their pockets.
2) “Spectrum is a finite resource we only have so much of it”
This is untrue and I’m surprised that the CTIA is propelling this myth. Refarming of 2G for 3G has shown us that 3 into 1 does go. Likewise the cell tower caching tech that is being rolled out across the UK by IBM is clearly showing that networks can be much better optimised.
3) “we think there is some really good opportunities to expand what is available to the carriers”
I agree completely with this and welcome it thoroughly but let’s me straight about why the industry needs spectrum – we don’t need to be pulling the wool over peoples eyes or confusing others by trying to make up a story that there is some mHealth bottle neck that’s going to jeopardise the health of patients.
4) “You can look at it like highway think of it in those terms. We have highways in this country and it has a number of lanes and that will handle a certain amount of traffic. With spectrum that is our model those are our lanes and we know we have a lot more traffic coming than we currently have”
I think this straw man highlights the quality of the case being put forward by the CTIA here. We all know there are a range of ways of getting from A to B and the same goes for connecting devices. One look at the download stats for the UK and it’s obvious that the majority of backhaul to mobile cell towers is needless eg. IBM engineers are reporting massive end user network speed improvements and 70% less backhaul to cell towers that they have updated with local storage capacity.
I’m surprised that the CTIA isn’t being a bit smarter and playing to their technological strengths. Long criticised for attempts to segregate access and threaten the principles of net neutrality I’m surprised their members aren’t jumping at the chance to leverage mHealth to differentiate their data pipes. With healthcare uses they have this opportunity because it’s one of the very few areas that the public wouldn’t want to demand net neutrality (would anyone really argue that they have some protected right to share a Blueray movie via BitTorrent while an emergency ambulance struggles to stay connected?)
What could the CTIA do to help mHealth adoption and improve the interests of their members?
I think this should start with educating their member organisations on the opportunities for the mobile industry to differentiate itself:
Increasing adoption of mobile and mobile data services amongst seniors. Compared with other developed countries US seniors have some of the lowest mobile adoption levels in the world.
Offering ABC (Always Best Connected) priority connection options could kick start a lot of network innovations. I’m at a loss as to why this golden opportunity is being ignored by carriers but if I was with a US network I’d start by making this available to emergency personnel. Even in modern cities here in Europe we’ve got ambulance and police services misled into thinking they need to have their own expensive networks and we’ve heard of such poor decisions being made across the USA too.
mHealth provides an enormous opportunity to fix the problems with US network capacity. With mHealth comes a need for reliable mobile connectivity options and there are countless ways that mHealth could be used eg. to drive more distributed demand on networks (night time data uploads etc) or as a trojan horse to drive wider consumer appetite for femtocells. Not only would femtocells in the homes of patients effectively add lanes to the highways that John Walls refers to but they’d also help take data off the wireless infrastructure – with the added benefit of avoiding the CTIA member organisations having to spend on the normal planning, site rental etc costs that normally accompany the deployment of more cell towers.
UPDATE: 1 AUGUST 2011
Great to see that the CTIA are sharing John’s talk on YouTube: