The mobile network technology is rapidly evolving. From the first generation at the end of the last century to the fourth generation (4G), it has started as voice-only communications and nowadays we can browse the internet, communicate and share data very quickly on our mobile phones. Not only humans, but also intelligent devices can communicate and share data with each other, in the so-called Internet-of-Things.

In a world in constant technological evolution, a new generation of mobile technology is approaching: the 5G era. This technology is meant to replace the existing 4G LTE soon and is already being tested in several places around the globe. It is foreseen that the 5G will have huge impacts in sectors such as Health, Mobility, and Industry.

But after all, what is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile network technology that is going to replace the current 4G LTE.  4G LTE is a mobile network technology that brought higher quality and speed for services, with priority to data rather than voice. The services include the ones that came from the previous generation of mobile networks such as making phone calls, video calls, multimedia messaging service, and the ability to browse the internet.

5G is expected to bring a lot of advantages such as:

  • Increase in speed of communication data rates – in normal conditions, it will be between 1 and 10 Gbps, which is 10 times higher than the LTE;
  • Increased bandwidth, coverage and connectivity;
  • Lower latency – around 1 ms, which is 10 times lower than the 10 ms of the 4G, so there is no lag;
  • Lower energy consumption.

All these advantages of 5G come from five new technological innovations, that require investment for upgrading network infrastructures:

  • Millimeter waves – This kind of wave has a frequency between 30 and 300 GHz which is higher than the frequency of the 4G waves (6 GHz). However, the millimeter waves have a smaller wavelength, which means that they have some difficulties in surpassing buildings and obstacles and that they can be absorbed by foliage and rain. That is why there is a need to use small cells.
  • Small cells – This low energy consuming, miniature portable base stations will be placed around the city, in high quantity, to make sure that the millimeter waves do not get lost. Since every small cell has its own frequencies, different cells can use the same frequency to connect with different devices.
  • Massive MIMO – MIMO stands for massive input massive output and translates into more antennas being installed at the base stations. However, more antennas mean more interference. That is why 5G uses beamforming.
  • Beamforming – This signaling system finds the most efficient path to deliver the data to the user, reducing interference.
  • Full Duplex – This technology makes it possible to receive and send information in the same frequency and at the same time.

Summing up, the main differences between 4G and 5G are:

Table 1 – Differences between 4G and 5G

        4G         5G
Data rate 0.01 – 1 Gbps 0.1 – 20 Gbps
Latency (User) 10 ms 1 ms
Mobility Up to 350 km/h Up to 500 km/h
Energy efficiency 0.1 mJ per 100 bits 0.1 μJ per 100 bits
Device density 100k/km2 1000K/km2

How will 5G be relevant for Healthcare and Well-being?

With all the advanced capabilities that 5G brings to mobile communications, along with the IoT, Robotics, Big data, and Machine learning techniques, it will improve the way health care services are provided. Four examples of 5G applications in Healthcare are: online consultation, online health monitoring, remote diagnosis, and mobile robotic surgery.

Regarding online consultation, 5G and IoT will greatly improve the Healthcare Systems’ capacity for the patients to monitor themselves at home and send the data to the healthcare professional in real-time during the consultation.

Concerning online health monitoring, 5G will enable the concept of a virtual hospital where the patient is being monitored outside of it with an alert system.

Online consultation and health monitoring, using 5G, would be an improvement to our project at Hospital Santa Marta. In this project, patients who underwent cardiothoracic surgery, send health outcomes and a picture of the surgical wound to the healthcare team, daily, using IoT and 4G. 5G will bring the possibility of a reliable and safe video phone call, where the patient could show the surgical wound in real-time, without any buffering, failures or limitation in the number of users in the network.

With 5G it might be possible to do remote diagnosis due to physical remote examination that is made by using a remotely controlled robot that transmits video, audio, and haptic feedback to the healthcare professional, continuously. Haptic feedback is very important because it gives the healthcare professional the ability to have the sense of touch without physically touching the patient in the same room. 5G also makes it possible to send radiology exams in real-time. As the files with the imageology exams are very heavy, this new technology will allow doctors to access them instantly, due to its high data rate.

Finally, remote mobile robotic surgery will also be possible due to 5G. Since robotic surgery depends a lot on haptic sensing, the low latency that 5G brings is very important to make remote surgery work. Also, the ability that 5G offers for a reliable, continuous and uninterrupted connection, will allow the surgery to be performed several kilometers away.

What is already being done in the real world with 5G?

An example of a company that is testing 5G on the field is Vodafone Italy. Vodafone Italy is doing research in a lot of areas such as health, mobility, industry, and security. I am going to talk about three use cases in the healthcare area:

  1. An ambulance, that is being used in Milan, that is connected through 5G with the emergency management center and the doctors at the hospital. This way, the paramedics at the ambulance can share medical information about the patient in real-time, while moving to the hospital.
  2. Live remote surgery, where the doctor and the surgery robot were at the opposite side of the city of Milan. The surgery had the objective of treating vocal cords injuries and was done on a synthetic larynx model.
  3. Doctors and specialist technicians were able to share high-resolution videos and images containing patient exams and discuss the diagnosis at different locations and on the move.

In conclusion, 5G might revolutionize healthcare, making it accessible at any point of the globe. However, the technology is still being tested and high investments are needed to build new infrastructures, so it can be released to the public.

— About the author —

As Software Developer, Pedro works directly with healthcare providers, patients and researchers to support the software developing as a product in the field of Digital Health, intending to improve the efficiency of healthcare and enhance the data collection and telemonitoring of patients.


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