FCC body network

The future will be connected. While we still depend on wires and cables to hook devices together and to the Internet, more and more connections are handled wirelessly to allow mobility and to eliminate installation costs. As sensor technology continues to advance, we will want to connect various parts of our bodies — internal and external — to data monitoring and processing systems to help us lead healthier, more fit lives. And when you say “wireless” in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is probably going to get involved.

So it should be no surprise that the FCC is deeply involved in the wireless future. What you may find surprising is the fact that it has taken a proactive position on a problem that has not really materialized yet: how to wirelessly network our bodies. Last week, the FCC approved new rules for “Medical Body Area Networks,” or MBANs as they are known inside the acronym-loving Beltway. The 35-page document goes into excruciating detail, but here are the high points. The goal of the rules is to encourage and facilitate the “development and deployment” of new devices. The FCC wants to create a “platform for the wireless networking of multiple body-worn sensors used for measuring and recording physiological parameters and other patient information or for performing diagnostic or therapeutic functions, primarily in healthcare facilities.” The aim is to create systems that can monitor patients with real-time data that will cut costs and allow faster response to a patient’s changes in condition.

These networks will operate in a portion of the 2360 to 2400 MHz band at low power. It will share this spectrum segment with aeronautical mobile telemetry (AMT) applications, which are used to monitor test pilots in flight. And these signals are only to be used to distribute data within the MBAN; a different mode of communication — such as Bluetooth — will be needed to connect the body network to external data systems. These devices will not be permitted to interfere with other devices on these same frequencies, but since they are designed to operate at low power levels, this should not be a hardship.

This action by the FCC incorporates feedback from industry and research sources who cooperated closely on the development of these rules. This should help create a stable platform on which to build a whole new constellation of health and medical devices that will make monitoring and treatment of patients more efficient and faster.