Does Ericsson's 5G-for-Healthcare Biz Case Need Surgery?
Toward a 5G hospital
This push outside pure connectivity will put telcos in competition with the systems integrators and IT specialists that Northstream touts. The good news, from a telco perspective, is that many healthcare professionals see telcos as important partners, says Ericsson. According to a new report put together by Singh's ConsumerLab division, 86% of "cross-industry" decision makers want operators to go beyond connectivity and take more responsibility for systems integration, as well as app and service development. The bad news is that most operators have so far struggled to make that jump, which could explain why so many decision makers cited this as a need in Ericsson's survey (900 were interviewed in total, says Ericsson).
And while Dasgupta champions 5G for remote surgery and its "real time" capabilities, existing technologies, including WiFi and 4G, can probably satisfy many service needs, including hospitals' mainstream connectivity requirements. Singh reckons 5G will prolong battery life in wearable devices, but concedes that today's networks could turn hospitals into "centralized [data] repositories" with the right industry collaboration. Amid concern about the confidentiality of patients' medical records, the use of WiFi provokes jitters about data security, says Dasgupta, while acknowledging that WiFi has been "excellent" in the healthcare industry thus far.
If healthcare professionals are so enamored with 5G, could hospitals take ownership of some 5G networks? Ericsson rival Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) is building public safety and private mobile networks for government authorities and enterprise customers, rather than service providers, and thinks most sales growth will come from "adjacent" vertical markets in the next few years (although the healthcare industry is not one of its targets). Ulf Ewaldsson, the head of digital services for Ericsson, has hinted at similar enterprise ambitions if Ericsson can first restore profitability at its core business. And Hanna Maurer Sibley, Ericsson's head of network products, accepts that 5G network ownership is an issue that needs addressing in the healthcare sector. "There has to be a partnership and who owns what has to be ironed out," she says. (See Nokia to Create Standalone Software Biz, Target New Verticals and Ericsson's Ewaldsson Takes Aim at Telco 'Conservatism'.)
For healthcare professionals like Dasgupta, the sales opportunity is quite obviously a secondary consideration. "If this is just about making billions then we have a problem," he says. "It has to be a business that adds up but it cannot continue to be a business that is taking away from patients." If 5G can lead to the kind of radical changes and efficiencies that Dasgupta envisages, then suggesting that hospitals become 5G operators, as well as data centers, does not seem quite so bizarre.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading