After months of debate, the Continua Health Alliance finally announced its choice of wireless technology for low power medical devices. Bluetooth low energy and ZigBee have been the key antagonists in this process and today Continua decided to make it a threesome and share its bed with both partners.
Whilst most people outside the specification groups will dismiss this as irrelevant, it does have some important implications, as it presents medical device manufacturers with a dilemma – which of these two wireless standards do they choose? We’re at a point in time where we’re about to witness a new phenomenon of internet connected, consumer medical devices, which will open up the possibility of a new era of personal healthcare. If manufacturers become confused about which of two incompatible standards to use, they’ll delay their products, with a resulting delay in availability and implementation. It’s important that doesn’t happen.
Everyone knows that Bluetooth is in their phone and their headset. What few realise is how many other products rely on it for their connectivity. Over the past few years I’ve been working with manufacturers and organisations to integrate wireless into their products, particularly in the area of healthcare and fitness. Having spoken about the current state of play at a recent conference, it struck me that most of Bluetooth’s success in this area is invisible. The reality is very different, as the recent statement from the Bluetooth SIG acknowledges – Bluetooth is present in over 20 million health and fitness devices. Market leaders like Philips, Nonin, Polar, Nintendo and Medtronics have chosen it. That’s not a arbitrary choice, but one that they’ve made for good technical reasons. To explain why, I’ve written a report about Bluetooth and the health ecosystem it is enabling. In it I cover the reasons it has achieved its current success and how it is poised to become the standard for all consumer health and fitness products. I also cover the changing health demographics to illustrate the reason we need it. To find out why, download the report –
The phrase of “two nations divided by a common language” to describe the differences between America and the UK is generally ascribed to Bernard Shaw. Looking at a recent presentation on mHealth, it occurred to me that a very similar comment could be coined for the way we use our mobile phones.
The thought that prompted this came from a presentation by Andre Blackman on mHealth. In it he asked his North Carolina audience the question of “How many mobile phones are equipped with SMS (text) function?” The answer, which I suspect surprised a number of his audience, was “WOW – 95%”. It struck me that had I been asking a similar question in Europe, I’d have phrased it differently, probably as “When was the last phone sold which didn’t have SMS?” And I’d have been surprised to get many audience members suggesting a date any later than 2002 – ten years after the first SMS was sent.
It highlights something which I’ve been aware of for the last ten years – different countries and cultures are developing their mobile usage in different ways. Multi-mode and multi-standard phones now mean that most of us around the world have the same basic technology in our hands. Yet the way we use that and the way that our network operators promote it continues to diverge.
At last week’s G20 summit, the GSM Association assembled 24 of their operators to provide a petition requesting access to more spectrum. The reason was to allow them to make mobile broadband a key part of their country’s broadband plans. Whether or not they get their wish is still to be seen, but it sends a powerful message that they, as well as fixed line operators, can be part of the broadband future.
That’s important for them, as it places them far more firmly on their individual country’s roadmap towards a broadband future. In turn, that’s important to handset developers, who will see it as justification to include broadband related technologies and features. And it’s important to manufacturers of connected consumer devices that will extend the broadband reach beyond the handset. It gives further emphasis to Bluetooth’s claim to be the mainstream low power technology for low power healthcare devices. The reason is simple – an expansion of handsets supporting mobile broadband will mean a bigger critical mass of Bluetooth gateways. That’s a reality the Continua Health Alliance and health device designers needs to factor into their plans.
The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, meeting place of all that is new and shiny in the mobile business, gave unexpected attention to the subject of mobile healthcare. As well as announcements by the GSMA Development Fund and UN Foundation on the progress that is happening in the developing world, the GSM Association also hosted a panel session on mHealth, which I was fortunate enough to moderate.
Alongside me were David Neale of Telus and Brian O’Connor of the European Connected Health Campus. Both are pioneers in mobile health and excellent advocates for the subject. The biggest question we all had, which we posed to the networks and service providers is “why aren’t you doing it?” The examples shown by the GSMA’s “Doctor in your Pocket” report show that mobile phones can play a persuasive part in healthcare. Yet network operators in the West constantly reject health applications in favour of content. It doesn’t need to be like that.
Today has been a good day for mHealth. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, both the GSM Association and the combined UN and Vodafone Foundations have made major commitments to the development and support of mHealth. For those unfamiliar with the word, mHealth is the use of a mobile phone to deliver healthcare.
The White Paper that the GSM Association has produced in conjunction with its announcement explains it well – it’s all about “The Doctor in your Pocket”. It surveys four countries that already have established remote healthcare schemes – a mix of both private and government initiatives, and concludes that not only does it work, but that it has the potential to bring significant improvements to the lives of people who have the greatest difficulty in accessing healthcare provision.