Wireless 2G, 3G and 4G for Healthcare Applications

Today I’m attending the Mobile Health Conference (mHealth) conference in Las Vegas. So far it’s been a pretty effective conference for me already. Although, I’ve gotten most of the value from the people and vendors I’ve met and talked with. Although, is that really any surprise at a conference. More about those meetings later.

In this morning’s keynote conversation, they had executives from T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint that spoke and then did a short panel discussion. I must admit that I’d hoped for more from the panel discussion and I probably would have rather just had the whole thing a panel discussion. With that said, the most interesting topic they discussed was the 2G, 3G, and 4G topic.

Of course, they didn’t really dig into the different wireless signals like I would have liked to see. However, the executive from T-mobile said both in his speech and in the panel discussion that they’re committed to supporting 2G for 10 more years. Then, he offered this whopper: that most mHealth applications work perfectly fine on 2G and don’t actually need the higher 3G and 4G speeds.

He’s actually right that most health applications do work fine on 2G. However, I can’t help but wonder if that’s a function of there just not being enough 3G and 4G coverage to make it reasonable for a company to make an app that will only work on those faster networks.

From what I’ve seen in the internet world, applications will grow to use whatever resources they are given. Plus, there’s some applications that never get built until they have the resources to make it a reasonable reality.

So, while it may be true that the health applications of today generally work well on 2G, it’s worth asking what applications would we have if 3G and 4G were more widely available? I think we’re getting close to the point that we’ll find out. I imagine most EMR software would be happy to use whatever bandwidth you give them. Not to mention it would improve the user experience.

A few other quick hits:
-The AT&T executive (I believed) argued that they’re getting 4G speeds with 3G technology. So, why should they move to 4G?
-The Sprint executive nailed it on the head when he said that time is the economy of today. Higher speeds and better applications will save people time and that’s valuable.
-I can’t help but wonder where Verizon is. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad though.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • We spoke with a provider of home health care software yesterday. His customers are now outfitting their nurses with Netbooks with 3G. Which means more software sales for him.

  • Tim,
    I think we’re going to see more and more of that. Especially when were talking about places that don’t have existing IT infrastructure.

  • As we’ve seen with PCs, software will always expand to fit the hardware capabilities of the machine — hence “bloatware”. Rarely is there significant added functionality to justify the increase in application size — the code just gets sloppier, and often runs slower than before.

    Bandwidth is the same way. I used dial-up up until two years ago, when web page ads and clutter made 1 Mbps DSL a mandatory minimum. And now I have the luxury of watching YouTube videos, usually without pauses.

    That said, there has not been a smooth migration from 2G (roughly dial-up speed) to 3G and beyond. 3G, at 384Kbps to 2Mbps, has many technical problems. While it handles voice efficiently, it has trouble competing with Wi-Fi technology (802.11 at 54 Mbps) for data services — especially in the cost of business-wide antenna set-up — and major wireless carriers are hedging their bets by using the shorter-range but much faster Wi-Fi hot spots for data services.

    It would seem to me that for internal wireless use, 802.11x is a no-brainer. For longer range, perhaps we should wait for technology to catch up; perhaps a mature 4G/LTE will be the answer when it arrives.

  • Hi John,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the expo. Interesting to hear about T-Mobile’s dismissal of the need for anything more than 2G – a network technology that has already reached its capacity and wasn’t designed for data services.

    The AT&T executive was spot on about 4G, Sprint are just arbitrarily renaming WiMax (their 3G network technology) as 4G to win an obscure short term marketing objective:


    Verizon are making good ground in this space and are probably just saving their gunpowder for the mHealth Summit in Washington DC (mHealthSummit.org) taking place 8-10 November.

  • David,
    Yes, it does look like Verizon has made their bet on the mHealth Summit instead of the Mobile Health Expo. So many mHealth conferences these days. You could go to a healthcare IT conference every day of the week.

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