Moving into Oblivion – The 4G Network

Smart phones, tablet computers and personal digital assistants have pushed the entry of mobile applications into the healthcare technology market. An era of experiments and inventions that followed brought in a series of new generation wireless technologies viz. 3G, 4G etc. Today almost all smartphones have some kind of “G” connectivity, including the new iPhone. According to a report by Research2Guidance, a global mobile research group, medical app market is worth about $718 million and is expected to double by the end of this year.  But popularity of 4G networks seems to be fading.

What ails 4G

 Carriers have not taken any serious steps to explain to consumers the benefits of 4G. “A cesspool of acronyms, overoptimistic marketing claims and incompatible technologies has made 4G incomprehensible to the average consumer,” says digitaltrends, a technology research firm in a recent article in its web portal. “Standardization of commercial mobile technologies by a complex number of bodies such as the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), the 3GGP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has also added to the confusion,” it further says.

Are carriers alone responsible for this? It does not look to be so. “Once carriers got to build their new networks, regulatory authorities resorted to change the definition of 4G,” adds digitaltrends. “They lowered the minimum speed guidelines with the good intention of making it light for carriers, meaning that 4G networks would not be as revolutionary as they had first planned.”  Building 4G networks gave carriers a chance to improve their existing networks with enhanced 3G speeds and availability, closing the gap between 3G and 4G. Result – the average consumer today does not bother about 4G when they do not get it. In a recent study conducted by Piper Jafray, an investment bank and asset management firm, it was found that almost 47 per cent consumers did not feel the need for 4G – they simply switched over to 3G networks as it was progressively getting better. Consumers’ inability to understand the difference between different flavors of the 4G has also contributed to the low demand, observes the article.

 The Way Out

 The confusion among consumers continues with several carrier definitions of 4G that float around. A standardized baseline speed for 4G would keep many of the consumers happy. For that there has to be an agreement about the speed definition. Also, handset makers have a tendency to brand their handsets naming it after wireless services which does not help carriers in any manner. They need to stop slapping 4G on everything because it confuses the consumers more.

More and more health applications would emerge managing health and healthcare soon. That calls for careful implementation of regulatory standards and carrier definitions as quickly as possible. Fixing software problems and maintaining network speeds are other priority areas of the industry. Consumers too should be choosy about adopting applications that they actually need, warns Albert Shar, vice president and program officer for the Pioneer Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

 That is something consumers in the healthcare IT sector need to be careful about.

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