The medical community is sounding the alarm over possible interference from unlicensed portable electronics operating in a nearby spectrum. The spectrum's valuable wireless real estate has attracted technology companies and consumer advocates who have proposed use of unoccupied TV airwaves for high-speed Internet service across the country.
Hospitals and medical devicemakers counter that using empty channels for unlicensed uses could disrupt the monitoring of patients' heart rates, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs at medical facilities.
"If they stop functioning for a period of time, you don't know the patient's physiological condition. This is patient care at its most basic level," said Dale Woodin, executive director of the American Society of Healthcare Engineering, an arm of the American Hospital Association.
Devicemaker GE Healthcare requested in a Federal Communications Commission filing last week stricter standards to protect wireless patient-monitoring equipment, such as heart, blood pressure and respiration devices, from being overwhelmed by other equipment operating in nearby channels, commonly known as "white spaces."
The FCC is conducting tests to find an efficient and interference-free way to use the spectrum for broadband, but several trial devices have either broken down or failed.