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WiMAX in Healthcare

(Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access)


WiMAX is short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, and it also goes by the IEEE name 802.16. WiMax is basically a network of long range wireless access points that provide high speed internet. A WiMAX system consists of two parts:

  • A WiMAX tower (like a cell-phone tower) - A single WiMAX tower can provide coverage to a very large area (as big as 3,000 square miles)
  • WiMAX receiver - The receiver and antenna could be a small box or they could be built into a laptop the way WiFi access is today.
A WiMAX tower station can connect directly to the Internet using a high-bandwidth, wired connection. It can also connect to another WiMAX tower using a line-of-sight, microwave link. This connection to a second tower , also known as backhaul, along with the ability of a single tower to cover up to 3,000 square miles, is what allows WiMAX to provide coverage to remote rural areas.

What this points out is that WiMAX actually can provide two forms of wireless service:

  • There is the non-line-of-sight, WiFi sort of service, where a small antenna on your computer connects to the tower. In this mode, WiMAX uses a lower frequency range, they are better able to diffract, or bend, around obstacles.
  • There is line-of-sight service, where a fixed dish antenna points straight at the WiMAX tower from a rooftop or pole. The line-of-sight connection is stronger and more stable, so it's able to send a lot of data with fewer errors. Line-of-sight transmissions use higher frequencies, with ranges reaching a possible 66 GHz. At higher frequencies, there is less interference and lots more bandwidth.

The biggest difference between WiMAX and WiFI is not speed but distance. WiMAX outdistances WiFi by miles. WiFi's range is about 100 feet and WiMAX range is 30 miles. In the U.S., Sprint has recently made available their own WiMax in Baltimore, MD using their XOHM branded hardware to access the service. They're hoping to achieve speeds of 10 Mb/s over a 10 km distance, but are releasing the hardware with modest transfers of 2 to 4 Mbps. Other parts of the world such as Pakistan already have majority coverage, so it should only be a matter of time before Sprint, as well as other carriers through competition spread their access points nationwide. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse spoke at the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society conference in Atlanta, to drive home many of advantages of using WiMax in healthcare. One of his key points was the better security WiMax provided over WiFi, which is very important when it comes to transferring patient information


This could be used in ambulances as well as hospitals where it is not economically feasible to provide broadband services. In Italy, Newport Digital Technologies (NDT) has already implemented the use of WiMax to keep ambulances and hospitals in sync. Taiwan has a similar effort through Nortel, launching at the Taipei Medical University Hospital. Both have already benefited from the use of WiMax to communicate vital information from ambulance to hospital. This smooths the transition from ambulance to hospital for the patient because the paramedics update has been done in real time. There's also a communications protocol called DIAMETER, which controls the flow of traffic. If bandwidth is an issue, the system will turn off e-mail downloads to preserve resources in regards to patient status. Developers are working on fully supporting the updates mentioned earlier, in addition to video and VOIP calling. Of course, WiMax has range, but its speed is still in the 15Mbps range, so those last features may prove taxing for the current speeds.

In many third world rural countries WiMax brings affordable real-time broadband connectivity to mobile health workers in remote areas or clinics. As WiMax is implemented across the world it can drastically increase the availability of training to health care workers as well as provide on the spot medical references to increase the health care efficiency. WiMax should also streamline the collection of epidemiological data in the cases of outbreaks.

Web Resources:



"Chunghwa Telecom to Deliver "Taiwan Mobile Healthcare Services" with Nortel WiMAX technology." BNet. May-June 2007. Sept. 2008 <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_pwwi/is_200705/ai_n19058664>.

Reed, Brad. "Sprint WiMAX service now online in Baltimore." Network World. 29 Sept. 2008. 15 Oct. 2008 <http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/092908-sprint-launches-xohm-wimax-network.html?fsrc=netflash-rss>.

Orr, Jeff. "NDT to deploy WiMAX across Italy." WiMax.com. Oct. 2008 <http://www.wimax.com/commentary/blog/blog-2008/newport-digital-technologies-to-deploy-fixed-and-mobile-wimax-across-italy>.

Paolini, Monica. "Expanding the Reach of Healthcare in Developing Nations with WiMax." Senza Fili Consulting. (2009): 12. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:yXbtHUUp-IAJ:www.intel.com/Assets/PDF/whitepaper/healt...>.

Reed, Brad. "Sprint CEO pitches WiMAX to healthcare industry ." Networkworld. N.p., 01 Mar 2010. Web. 20 Nov 2011. <http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/030110-sprint-ceo-wimax.html>.

Related Terminology:

Mobile Healthcare


How WiMax Works
How WiMax Works