Vodafone today began a new collaboration with Charité Berlin (one of Europe’s largest university hospitals), Leipzig University Hospital and 16 other leading research and medical experts across Germany to explore future medical applications using 6G.
While 6G applications are unlikely to be available until at least 2030 when the first networks of this kind start to arrive, it is critically important to begin to conceptualise what these new technological developments mean for Vodafone’s customers, and society at large.
Improving patient care
Vodafone believes that 6G should be governed by two key rules: defined by customers, not by the industry; and software oriented, making it quick and easy to deploy new services.
To this end, Vodafone and its partners are exploring three fields of healthcare innovation that firmly focus on providing improved patient care and working conditions for medical teams under the banner ‘6G Health’, with funding support from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Drawing on the technical know-how of the engineers at its new Vodafone Tech Innovation Center in Dresden, one area of focus for the 6G Health project will be on collecting biosignals such as brain activity, blood pressure and heart rate in real-time directly from a patient and processing the data on site. This is designed to speed up diagnosis and patient hospital admissions.
3-D Images for rapid diagnosis
Providing medical staff with advanced augmented reality (AR) and telemedicine services to assist them in preoperative assessments is another area of innovation.
By providing three-dimensional images of an organ, a medical team can more accurately and quickly assess whether a specialist consultant is needed during surgery, and then theoretically transport them holographically into theatre if they are remotely located.
The third research field deals with the networking of medical devices and the communication infrastructure to create the smart hospital of the future.
With each generation of mobile technology, Vodafone has worked with leading universities and academics, start-ups, and established industry equipment manufacturers, to specify and help design ever faster, more efficient, trusted technologies.
The most recent generation of mobile technology, 5G, introduced a set of features that support higher speeds for mobile broadband, and new capabilities for applications that require bespoke connectivity such as robots, machines, and vehicles.
In theory, with sufficient radio bandwidth, 5G can deliver peak rates of up to 20Gbps meaning that it has a capability that exceeds what is practically achievable today.
5G-enabled Medical Drones
Already Vodafone’s fast and responsive 5G network in Germany has been used by the University Hospital of Düsseldorf (UKD) to safely fly a drone delivering nutrition solutions for premature babies from the central pharmacy to the children’s ward.
In a test, the 5G-controlled drone covered 450 metres in 40 seconds, replacing the usual courier service. This is allowing the hospital to explore the automation of routine processes – all using fast, reliable, and prioritised air transport powered by 5G.
If 6G were to deliver even faster speeds it would have to use much higher frequency bands, known as terahertz, which travel much shorter distances.
For these reasons, Vodafone expects that faster speeds in 6G will be confined to less expansive locations, while mobile broadband over wider areas will be delivered over technologies based on 5G.
At this early stage in the 6G journey, researchers around the world are still exploring different technologies and network architectures.
Pioneering Work in Dresden
Vodafone’s pioneering work in Dresden on future 6G medical applications might become candidates for a future suite of 6G technologies.
Vodafone is also exploring the idea of joint sensing and communications, where radio waves that support communication are also used to ‘sense’ the surrounding environment using an approach similar to radar.
This could be used in Vodafone’s network to understand the location and speed of surrounding objects to improve how the network supports connectivity to moving devices, such as medical drones.
Feel the Internet
Dr. Ralf Irmer, Head of the Vodafone Tech Innovation Center Dresden explained: “6G will be more than just a mobile radio network, it will combine mobile communications, sensors and incredible computing power. While 5G is bringing us near real-time applications, especially designed to support industrial and medical services and robotics, with 6G, data is processed so quickly that we will also be able to feel the Internet.”
6G will continue the remarkable advancements in mobile technology, delivering better performance, greater capacity to support more users, new products, and connectivity everywhere.
Enormous Societal Value
The mobile telecommunications industry delivers enormous societal value, and innovation is at its heart. Breakthrough technologies are made possible because the industry works together, across the globe, to set common standards which enable economies of scale that allow for lower product costs.
Over the following years, the collective endeavours of researchers around the world, including those at Leipzig University Hospital and at Vodafone Business Centre for Health in Dresden, will cultivate new ideas.
By bringing them into the organisations that develop harmonised specifications, Vodafone can ensure that the best ones are developed quickly and cost effectively, to the benefit of all society.
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