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Reports out of the US say that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in that country is checking unsubstantiated reports that wireless broadband could be interfering with wireless hospital equipment and could potentially cause the death of some patients.

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The US medical community has sounded the alarm over possible interference from unlicensed portable gadgets, such as PDA’s, laptops and the like operating in a nearby wireless spectrum.

And hospitals say using empty channels for unlicensed use is a “matter of life and death, not just a source of static for entertainment outlets. It could disrupt the monitoring of patients’ heart rates, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs at medical facilities”.

Medical device maker GE Healthcare has also weighed in to this debate, asking the FCC to proceed carefully in its decision to permit broadband use through those idle channels, commonly known as “white spaces.”

In an FCC filing last week, the company requested stricter standards to protect wireless patient-monitoring equipment such as “heart, blood pressure and respiration devices, from being overwhelmed by other equipment operating in nearby channels”.

 

The FCC says it is conducting tests to find an efficient and interference-free way to use the spectrum for broadband and the agency will start field-testing “soon”.

Technology vendors for their part, including Google, Microsoft and Dell, have all gone on record and said low-powered, unlicensed and portable devices such as mobile phones, laptops and BlackBerrys, can “operate safely in the empty spectrum without harming other signals. They say it will provide affordable high-speed Internet and spur innovation”.

As one report noted, losing the audio feed during “Monday Night Football” may seem like a crisis for a sports fan, but it’s nothing compared to losing the signal that monitors a critically ill hospital patient.

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