Feds take another step toward approving wireless body sensors

U.S. healthcare facilities are getting closer to making Medical Body Area Networks a reality. A new website has been launched so hospitals can formally register their deployments of MBANs, which support wireless patient monitoring to transmit patient health data over a short range at low power levels.

The networks are envisioned as a platform to support multiple wireless body-worn sensors used for measuring and recording physiological parameters, as well as other patient information, and for performing diagnostic and therapeutic functions.

The U.S. is the first country to allocate spectrum for MBANs. In May 2012, the Federal Communications Commission allocated 40 megahertz of spectrum in the 2360 to 2400 MHz band for these low-power networks, with the 2360 to 2390 MHz band to be used indoors only.

Hospitals deploying MBANs must register the networks through a new registration website created by the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA), which was selected by the FCC to serve as an MBAN frequency coordinator to ensure interference-free sharing of spectrum between wireless patient monitoring devices and aeronautical testing systems that might be operating near healthcare facilities.

“You can’t deploy things that transmit unless it’s been approved by the FCC,” says Mark Crosby, president and CEO of EWA, the MBAN frequency coordinator and a national association representing the interests of business enterprises that rely on wireless communications systems. “Can hospitals deploy MBANs without registering? Yes, and those are called unlicensed systems. If they get caught, they are going to get fined. This is for patients. The [FCC] is not going to put up with it.”

In addition to creating the website for registering MBAN deployments, EWA is working in cooperation with the Aerospace and Flight Test Radio Coordinating Council (AFTRCC) to “seek concurrence” for the deployment of MBANs and to determine whether proposed MBAN locations are within line-of-site of an aeronautical mobile telemetry receiver and to develop a technical solution that mitigates the risk of interference.

Hospitals cannot put these networks in without having that concurrence from AFTRCC first, according to Crosby. “There’s probably going to be overlap because there are some parts of the country where there’s flight testing going on,” he observes.

However, Crosby says no MBANs are currently up and running, but he sees the networks deploying in the near future.

“There are no MBAN deployments in the 2360 to 2390 MHz band today,” he concludes. “The band is open and available, products are being developed by vendors, and the mechanisms to register—as well as the protocols between AFTRCC and EWA—have been executed. We’re ready to go.”