Bluetooth, Wi-Fi standards to eclipse proprietary wireless medical monitoring by 2018

Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other standardized wireless protocols are set to trump proprietary wireless protocols in mobile medical devices by 2018, says a new ABI report. This follows the proliferation of consumer smartphones, tablets, workout monitors, inhalers and other devices, reflecting the desire of consumers and health professionals to make it easier to integrate remote health reporting systems with familiar electronics.

The trend presents many implications for wearable and internal communications device networking, or "mobile body area networking" (MBAN). The applications for MBAN are infinite. One example of the emerging dominance of standardized protocols in MBAN: Let's say you have a heart rate monitor secured to the outside of your body, and that monitor is Bluetooth Smart- or Bluetooth Smart Ready-enabled. The monitoring device can transmit a signal to a Bluetooth-enabled gateway device if your heart rate increases or decreases beyond a specified range. The device can instantly relay that information over the Internet to an off-site cloud computing center. Depending on the implementation, the center can then issue an alert to an appropriate health care professional's computer or mobile device, whereupon an EMT or doctor can take the appropriate medical action.

In a proprietary wireless scenario, on the other hand, the patient may need a proprietary mobile app or lug around a separate, standalone gateway device to relay the information to the appropriate parties. This extra layer of protocol can slow adoption rates for potentially life-saving communications technology–not to mention keep costs higher than they need to be.

Health monitoring and direct therapy delivery devices using Bluetooth Smart (formerly known as Bluetooth Low Energy or LE) and Bluetooth Smart Ready (which can integrate with both Smart and Classic Bluetooth) protocols will out-ship devices using proprietary protocols in 2018. Devices using Wi-Fi protocols, which are more common in on-site applications such as intensive care units, will rake in $100 million, topping the market in revenues.

The report also mentions ZigBee and other IEEE 802.15.4 protocols as standardized alternatives to proprietary medical technologies. The market for the standardized protocols is projected to grow by 72% over the next five years. IEEE 802.15.6, while a step up from the previous IEEE protocol, is proving slower to find traction as the world market has already committed to harmonizing with the 2360-2400 MHz spectrum of IEEE 802.15.4. Nevertheless, medical sensing devices (or integrated circuits, ICs) using the later IEEE standard are expected to ship 8 million units in 2018.

The eventual adoption of standardized wireless protocols in the medical industry could also represent another step towards convergence.