Third Generation (3G) Cellular Networks in Telemedicine: Technological Overview, Applications, and Limitations

Third Generation (3G) Cellular Networks in Telemedicine: Technological Overview, Applications, and Limitations

Konstantinos Perakis (National Technical University of Athens, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-002-8.ch017
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Abstract

The evolutions in the field of telecommunications technologies, with the robustness and the fidelity these new systems provide, have significantly contributed in the advancement and development in the field of medicine, and they have also brought forth the need for their utilisation in the healthcare sector. Thus, telemedicine and e-Health have clearly started to become an important issue for implementation, operational deployment of services and a promising market for industry. Recognizing this trend, its importance in the lives of citizens all around the globe and its contribution in the daily healthcare delivery by all actors involved in the procedure, the authors of this chapter attempt to familiarize the readers with the impact that high broadband wireless networks have upon telemedicine services and with the way they facilitate the secure transmission of vital information stemming from bandwidth demanding applications in real time. After providing the readers with an overview of telemedical services and commenting on how they can offer added value to existing healthcare services, they provide an analysis of the wireless infrastructure that has facilitated telemedical services over the years, and point out the significant role that the third generation telecommunications systems can play in the field. After that, follows an analysis of the range of new applications that can be supported by the 3G telecommunications infrastructure, and the related research that has taken place in the European level regarding the utilization of 3G networks for telemedical applications. However, 3G networks are not a panacea; for this reason the limitations of this infrastructure is also stressed out. The authors conclude by discussing whether 3G networks can prove to be an attractive solution for telemedical services to healthcare providers.
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Introduction

The evolutions in the field of telecommunications technologies, with the robustness and the fidelity these new systems provide, have significantly contributed in the advancement and development in the field of medicine; they have also brought forth the need for their utilisation in the healthcare sector, a sector that is information intensive and knowledge demanding. Thus, e-Health solutions are of crucial importance (Olsson & Lymberis & Whitehouse, 2004, p.312); telemedicine and e-Health have clearly started to become an important issue for implementation, operational deployment of services and a promising market for industry (Wooton, 1999) (“EU2004a”, 2004). As had been forecasted a decade ago, healthcare institutions make extensive use of computer networks, mass storage devices, and sophisticated workstations at which humans and machines interact, assisted by advanced information processing tools and techniques of knowledge engineering, to achieve integration of multimodality multimedia, diagnostic data and expert medical knowledge (Orphanoudakis & Kaldoudi & Tsiknakis, 1996, 210). However, telemedicine is not a brand new service. On the contrary, telemedicine has been described from as early as as 1906, when W.Einthoven described the possibility of transmitting cardiogram information via telephone lines. This description became a reality in 1910 when S.G. Brown did actually transmit hearing sounds in London. In addition, a few years later, and more specifically in 1920, wireless communications were utilized in order to provide medical advice support in boats from the Norwegian hospital Haukeland.

Since 2004, the term eHealth aroused, defined by Eysenbach as: ‘‘eHealth is an emerging field in the intersection of medical informatics, public health and business, referring to health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies. In a broader sense, the term characterises not only a technical development, but also a state-of-mind, a way of thinking, an attitude, and a commitment for networked, global thinking, to improve healthcare locally, regionally and worldwide by using information and communication technology’’(Eysenbach, 2001, e20), (Pagliari et al, 2005, e9). The term eHealth is supposed to be an overall term, or even better an “umbrella” term, including all aspects of Health Telematics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

GPRS: GPRS (short for general packet radio service) is a new non-voice, value added, high-speed, packet-switching technology for GSM networks. It facilitates sending and receiving small bursts of data, such as email and web browsing, as well as large volumes of data over a mobile telephone network. Its main innovations are that it is packet based, it increases data transmission speeds, and extends the Internet connection all the way to the mobile PC – the user no longer needs to dial up to a separate Internet Service Provider.

3G Systems: 3G systems can support higher data rates, thus allowing for a range of new applications. The integration of third generation telecommunication technologies in medicine could prove to be crucial in many aspects of remote provision of healthcare, which communication technologies used to-date (such as GSM or even GPRS) cannot support. Such systems can be used for tele-diagnosis, tele-monitoring and tele-consultation in various fields of medicine.

GSM: Global system for mobile communications (GSM) is the most popular standard for mobile phones in the world. Its promoter, the GSM Association, estimates that 82% of the global mobile market uses the standard. GSM is used by over 2 billion people across more than 212 countries and territories.Its ubiquity makes international roaming very common between mobile phone operators, enabling subscribers to use their phones in many parts of the world. GSM differs from its predecessors in that both signalling and speech channels are digital call quality, and thus is considered a second generation (2G) mobile phone system. This has also meant that data communication was easy to build into the system.

Telemedicine: Telemedicine is a rapidly developing application of clinical medicine where medical information is transferred via telephone, the Internet or other networks for the purpose of consulting, and sometimes remote medical procedures or examinations. Telemedicine may be as simple as two health professionals discussing a case over the telephone, or as complex as using satellite technology and video-conferencing equipment to conduct a real-time consultation between medical specialists in two different countries. Telemedicine generally refers to the use of communications and information technologies for the delivery of clinical care.

UMTS: UMTS stands for universal mobile telecommunication System and constitutes Europe’s implementation of the 3G Telecommunications Systems. These new systems are a significant innovation over 2G and 2.5G systems because of their high operating flexibility, their ability to provide a wide range of applications and generally extend the services now provided to fixed networks users to mobile customers. Contrary to the current GSM systems, UMTS allows for broadband data communication to mobile units, packet-based transmission of text, digitized voice, video, and multimedia, offering a set of services to mobile computer and phone users no matter where they are located in the world.

Cellular Networks: A cellular network is a radio network made up of a number of radio cells (or just cells) each served by a fixed transmitter, known as a cell site or base station. These cells are used to cover different areas in order to provide radio coverage over a wider area than the area of one cell. Cellular networks are inherently asymmetric with a set of fixed main transceivers each serving a cell and a set of distributed (generally, but not always, mobile) transceivers which provide services to the network’s users. Cellular networks offer a number of advantages over alternative solutions like increased capacity, reduced power usage and better coverage.

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