UK’s first 4G network asks “what mHealth services would 4G enable that are not practical now?”

Just joined in on this discussion in a Linkedin group and thought I’d share my thoughts here too:

While I don’t doubt 4G will be adopted quickly I think the bigger challenge surrounds “what services would someone be willing to pay for?”, “what alternatives already exist?” and ““what mHealth services could we be doing more of over our existing 3G networks?”.

In my opinion in Healthcare most data intensive services in the UK are already well served by existing fixed, WiFi and 3G network capacity. Many others can be avoided by on-device processing so the network access is only required for signalling eg. “OK”, “not OK”, “error code GHFYE2”, etc.

Most of the need for wide area broadband in healthcare can be achieved with more reliability using better optimisation of networks rather than new networks and we’ve seen this with healthcare providers who have equipped their Ambulances and Neonatal intensive care customised coaches with HD video links that they get more reliability from connecting an ambulance over multiple 3G networks rather than putting all their eggs in one basket with a single 4G network (unlike we see with 3G network providers have yet to announce network sharing deals with their 4G networks).

Major news broadcasters like the BBC/CNN/etc already do this for their roaming broadcasters (as an alternative to wieldy/expensive satellite broadcast vans) and I imagine it’s going to remain a small market for the next few years especially as most built up areas (where 4G is being rolled out first) have plenty of increasingly accessible WiFi/3G availability due to femtocells etc.

There’s also the possibility that most data users expect it to be unlimited/cheap and a throttled/congested 4G network isn’t going to be very different from a 3G network.

It’s still to be seen which way customers will side when it comes to practically unlimited access to 3G networks (like 3 UK who offer non contract customers who top up by as little as £15/month on a network that is shared with T-Mobile UK – which is confusingly one of the partners in the new EverythingEverywhere/EE brand) or more expensive access to a faster data channel with lower area coverage (like EE has launched this week which with their entry contract tarriff of £36/month only provides 500MB of data – an amount that could technically be used up in less than a minute over their advertised 4G Data speeds!) but you can be sure the larger volumes of the data will be used for non healthcare related entertainment purposes and there are already some very cool network technologies being rolled out that are capable of substantially reducing these network demands eg. IBM’s video data caching cell towers.

I can also imagine that many consumers might also start campaigning against 4G Masts/network roll out and so I would encourage network providers with 4G ambitions (like EE) to be upfront and open in the management of these and maybe take the initiative and innovate with the possibilities – before Apple does!

We’re all set to start providing 3G Doctor mobile video consultations over these more capable mobile networks (and when 4G has received £X Billion of marketing spend and become mass market we’re sure “4G Doctor” will work very well) and very interested in your thoughts on any new 4G mHealth opportunities…

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