May 13 2024

Healthcare and Wi-Fi 6E: Improving Productivity, Speed and Security

Switching to the new wireless standard can set up a healthcare organization’s network infrastructure for success, but doing so requires careful planning.

As connected medical devices and patient devices evolve, wireless healthcare networks require predictable throughput, latency and reliability.

Through the adoption of Wi-Fi 6E, healthcare providers can expect more efficient use of spectrum and a lower likelihood of collisions, leading to lower latency and improved performance.

The biggest benefits introduced by Wi-Fi 6E are the increase in available radio frequency spectrum and channels and the addition of 6-gigahertz operation, which will double the available spectrum within FCC regulatory domains.

With Wi-Fi 6E, healthcare organizations can use 40-megahertz or 80MHz channels with the same radio resource management (RRM) channel re-use factor, which improves total throughput per access point (AP) and the maximum burst rate for devices.

“It’s like adding a whole other set of lanes to a highway,” says David Logan, HPE Aruba Networking CTO for the Americas. “With the increased band, we’re freeing up space for IoT medical devices by moving everyone else’s more powerful personal devices — things like laptops and smartphones — onto the 6E network.”

He sees building in Wi-Fi 6E as creating a wireless highway “for the next 10 years,” when Wi-Fi 7 will be ready to deploy.

“If our healthcare customers are doing any kind of an upgrade, this is the opportunity to make a change that will carry them through the next decade,” Logan says.

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A High-Speed, Low-Latency, No-Jitter Network for Healthcare

Matt MacPherson, CTO for wireless engineering at Cisco Innovation Labs, adds that using the 6GHz band enables doctors and other healthcare practitioners to download large imaging files from MRI and other machines more quickly.

“This way, they can provide better, faster care while increasing productivity and supporting more patients,” he says.

As digitization becomes more immersive — including artificial reality, extended reality, virtual reality and mixed reality — both hospital operations and the patient experience will continue to improve.

“These next-generation applications are dependent on high speed, low latency and jitter-free connectivity,” MacPherson says.

To take full advantage of the benefits of Wi-Fi 6E, healthcare organizations will need the infrastructure to support it.

“This includes switches that can support multi-gig and internet service providers that can deliver the needed bandwidth across the aggregate base layer,” MacPherson says.

Meanwhile, the density of clients will continue to rise as machine-to-machine communications start to outnumber person-to-person communications.

Wireless is now mission-critical in healthcare environments, so reliable connectivity will be key.

“IoT will have new expectations on the network, as machines can absorb information much faster than people,” he says. “Traffic will continue to rise with tighter latency and jitter requirements.”

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Support for Advanced Security to Protect Patient Data

Christian Gilby, senior director of product marketing at Juniper Networks, says that when it comes to security, Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) or opportunistic wireless encryption is mandatory for working with 6GHz.

“For many healthcare organizations, adopting 6GHz also means adopting WPA3,” he says. “This is not as daunting as it may seem, but there is some nuance to consider.”

He advises healthcare IT leaders to understand the devices on their networks as best they can, as well as driver versions.

“In some environments, especially with a large BYOD population, this may not be entirely feasible,” he notes. “You should also think about your existing service set identifiers and potentially use Wi-Fi 6E as an opportunity to reimagine your SSIDs.”

Gilby advises enlisting a partner to conduct a site survey to identify the best spots to place wireless Aps for optimal efficiency, reliability and performance, and for network assessment and network design advice.

“Healthcare use cases require more precise location capabilities for inventory, asset and people tracking,” he says. “The complexity of design and operation will soar with more available channels to configure.”

READ MORE: Why should your healthcare organization consider an upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 or 6E?

Healthcare Networking Infrastructure and Installation Best Practices

MacPherson notes that back-end infrastructure is a major consideration, and recommends that IT teams ensure that the core, aggregate and access switches are able to support the higher speeds and bandwidth of Wi-Fi 6E.

“Without this, users won’t realize the full benefits of Wi-Fi 6E,” he says. “Making sure the back end is ready is the most essential part.”

As APs add radios to support current and legacy connectivity, requirements for Power over Ethernet, a technology allowing both data and electrical power to be transmitted over Ethernet cables, may also increase.

Gilby notes that the complexity of design and operation will soar with more available channels to configure.

“This is where innovations such as AI RRM capabilities can be harnessed to simplify and optimize the network for better performance and increased automation,” he says.

From Logan’s perspective, there are multiple stakeholders — from healthcare IT specialists and chief medical information officers to clinical engineering specialists and technology integrators — who must all work together to ensure timely and safe installation of APs.

“It’s really incumbent upon IT to describe the business benefits of application performance, clinician productivity, patient digital experience and patient satisfaction, especially with a longer-term facility,” he says. “Those are the kinds of conversations that must take place.”

UP NEXT: Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E? Consider these design issues.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Feb. 6, 2024.

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