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Ofcom stares into healthcare crystal ball

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The report also makes no mention of the bands currently used by hospitals and medical research sites around the country, 434 and 458MHz. In these bands the medical industry is a secondary user, so deployments have to be carefully surveyed before anything is put into place, and users have to be alert for new interference sources.

Implants do get some dedicated spectrum, from 402 to 405MHz, which is harmonised across Europe and the USA. There have been questions about congestion within that band but Ofcom reckons that's just a perception problem, though they'll keep it under review.

A couple of bands are also reserved, across Europe, for social alarms - panic buttons and the like. These are very narrow bands near 170MHz and 870MHz, but the expected usage model - infrequent traffic with little content - means overloading isn't expected in the next 20 years, unless lots of oldsters suddenly need help at the same time.

RFID is also expected to make great changes in healthcare, with medicine bottles and medical supplies all being tagged, and tracked, within the next two decades. Hospitals will know the whereabouts of every pill box and bandage in the building, for a start. Intelligent boxes in the home will also alert patients when they should be taking a pill, along with wirelessly contacting the authorities if they fail to do so (whereupon they will no doubt be able to check the medical insurance situation before deciding what to do about it).

But none of that requires new spectrum - just effective use of what's already allocated, and the money to make it happen. Luckily the baby-boomers have made fortunes from their properties, and invested wisely in pensions, so should be able to afford to be looked after in their dotage by man or machine. The rest of us will just have to rely on luck.

Ofcom is planning to spend the next 12 months researching how the entertainment industry might be using wireless technologies between now and 2028. We'll be watching those developments with interest. ®

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