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Coalition Cautions FCC Against Reallocating Spectrum Used for Wireless Medical Devices

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

By Kendra Casey Plank  

A coalition of health care organizations has urged the federal government to protect a portion of the nation's broadband spectrum currently reserved for certain medical devices and radio astronomy from being opened for use by unlicensed devices.

In comments submitted Jan. 25 to the Federal Communications Commission, the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS) Coalition said allowing unlicensed devices to share the 608-614 MHz spectrum band--known as Channel 37--with WMTS devices threatened patient safety.

WMTS devices are used by hospitals to monitor patients' physiological data--such as heart rates and blood pressures--without limiting mobility as is the case with traditional wired monitoring devices. The devices transmit patient data to receivers in the hospital over the spectrum band allocated for such purposes; this allows clinicians to monitor changes in patients' physiology that could indicate life-threatening problems.

The WMTS Coalition's comments were in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking [FCC 12-118] adopted Sept. 28, 2012 concerning “incentive auctions” of broadcast spectrum bands. The incentive auction is an attempt by FCC to reclaim airwaves now used for broadcast television and then auction them off to wireless carriers led by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., with a portion of the proceeds paid to the broadcasters. The aim of the proposed plan is to make additional spectrum available for consumer wireless technology use and targets the 600 MHz band for reallocation, which includes the 608-614 MHz band (Channel 37) used primarily by WMTS devices.

No Mobile or Broadcast Use

But, the WMTS Coalition argued that Channel 37 should be preserved for wireless medical telemetry and not reallocated for mobile or broadcast use.

“The potential threat to patient safety created by the widespread use of unlicensed devices operating co-channel with WMTS devices is too great to allow such devices to 'share' this band,” the coalition wrote.


 

“The potential threat to patient safety created by the widespread use of unlicensed devices operating co-channel with WMTS devices is too great to allow such devices to 'share' this band.”  

 

--Wireless Medical Telemetry Service Coalition

The coalition is led by the American Society of Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), a group affiliated with the American Hospital Association. Other coalition members include the American College of Clinical Engineering, the Association for the Advancement for Medical Instrumentation, GE Healthcare, and Philips Healthcare.

“If any new services are allowed to use Channel 37, they should only be authorized to do so after it can be conclusively demonstrated that such use will not create even the smallest threat of interference to the WMTS licensees who are operating in the band,” the coalition argued.

Adjacent Spectrum Concerns

The group also urged FCC to consider how any changes to allocation of adjacent spectrum to Channel 37, Channels 36 and 38, might affect the use of Channel 37 by WMTS licensees.

Already, digital television operations in the adjacent channels “greatly constrains” WMTS uses in certain parts of the country, the coalition warned FCC.

The coalition said WMTS users in those cases “appear to have no grounds on which to complain” when operating in proximity to digital TV stations, and have developed their own solutions, which often include using less than the full available spectrum in Channel 37 or deploying their wireless operations in other modalities.

“But incumbent Channel 37 systems already in place will not have the advantage of this foresight in design if, after repacking and reallocation [of broadband spectrum], additional DTV stations or other higher powered licensees are introduced into these adjacent channels,” the coalition said.


The coalition's comments are available at http://www.ashe.org/resources/WMTS/pdfs/wmts_coallition_public_comments.pdf.

Additional information about the incentive auction is available at http://www.fcc.gov/document/broadcast-television-spectrum-incentive-auction-nprm.

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