AT&T to pilot 5G for healthcare with U.S. Veterans Affairs

Healthcare is one of the top three industries that stands to benefit from 5G use-cases with indirect boosts to jobs and GDP over the next decade, according to Boston Consulting Group. (Getty Images)

AT&T has installed a 5G distributed antenna system across (DAS) the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Puget Sound Health Care System, with plans to pilot healthcare applications using mobile edge compute.

Initially AT&T is using sub-6 GHz spectrum with the indoor DAS and other components, but anticipates deploying millimeter wave 5G spectrum alongside MEC technologies at some point this year.

The carrier’s 5G service using mmWave - dubbed "5G+" - has only seen a limited rollout in parts of 38 cities and isn’t live in any locations in Washington state as of yet. AT&T offers a nationwide 5G service using lower-band sub-6 GHz spectrum, and this month scored top network rank based on recent Ookla results (although testing companies vary). Mid-band deployments are widely expected later this year, following the FCC’s blockbuster C-band auction but the winners have yet to be named.  

Competitor Verizon, meanwhile, has been vocally championing 5G mobile edge compute for both public and private use-cases.  Last year, VA announced a partnership with Verizon, Microsoft and Medivis for a project focused on identifying potential clinical applications using a combination of emerging healthcare innovations and 5G capabilities.

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In a prepared statement, AT&T VP of Civilian and Shared Services for AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet Chris Smith called out the size of the new 5G installation, which covers the Seattle VA Medical Center and training facility, including a recently opened Mental Health & Research building.

“This public-private partnership to test our 5G and MEC capabilities is distinguished by the scope of implementation and innovation it allows, going well beyond a single-room care environment to encompass an entire medical care and training campus,” Smith stated.

The VA Puget Sound Health Care System covers more than 112,000 veterans living in 14 counties in the Pacific Northwest. AT&T said the public-private installation will explore use-cases that could be applied to help improve services for the approximately 9 million veterans a year who use VA healthcare.  

Healthcare industry expected to reap indirect 5G benefits

Healthcare is one of the top three industries in particular that stands to benefit from 5G use-cases with indirect boosts to jobs and GDP, according to a new study by Boston Consulting Group commissioned by wireless industry trade organization CTIA.

The study forecasts direct and indirect economic benefits of 5G over the next decade, estimating 5G networks could create about 4.5 million jobs overall in the U.S. and add roughly $1.5 trillion to the country’s GDP by 2030.

Indirect benefits come over time, as 5G networks continue to mature and get built out while adoption increases, and users have access to lower latency, higher reliability and faster speeds. It’s a shift from the direct impacts of infrastructure and build-outs on GDP and employment, to new and improved applications.

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For healthcare specifically, BCG estimates the industry will see 341,000 new jobs and contribute $104 billion to GDP thanks to new 5G use cases.

“5G could revolutionize telemedicine and remote monitoring. Wearables and monitoring devices will connect patients directly to providers, making health-care services more accessible and targeted,” wrote the study BCG study authors. “These advances, along with an aging population, will boost demand for care and spur job growth. Indeed, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment growth in health care will be among the fastest for all industry sectors in the next decade.”

Possible pilot applications for the AT&T installation include tracking people and medical assets within the healthcare center via mobile-to-mobile medical device connections; using AR and VR to improve medical procedures and training, and provide remote pain management; remote or near real-time assisted surgery by using multiple techniques layered through AR.

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“This is the first campus-wide indoor 5G system to be used by both VA staff and veterans on the AT&T Mobility Network,” said Daniel Mesimer, director, WAN/LAN Infrastructure Engineering & Provisioning Solution Delivery, in the Office of Information and Technology for the U.S. VA, in a statement.

Mesimer added that the 5G system enables increased carrier speeds and helps set the groundwork “for future capabilities of mobility networks for VA users and applications.”

On AT&T’s fourth quarter earnings call last week AT&T CEO John Stankey said the carrier is “winning in the public sector” with capabilities from building out the FirstNet dedicated public safety network and communications platform. In December, AT&T snagged business from Verizon to provide mobility services to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with a FirstNet contract valued at $92 million.

Additional information added to fourth paragraph.