Medical Body Area Networks: Integrating Our Bodies into the Internet

June 18, 2012

body into InternetAlthough it may surprise you, human bodies are now part of the Internet. 

Today’s information and communications technologies, melded with modern medical diagnostic and therapeutic devices and systems, make it possible for mobile communications networks to transmit data from within the human body and to send instructions to equipment embedded in the body.

These medical data networks routinely deal with a wide range of medical issues, including monitoring of bodily functions (heart rate, brain activity, etc.) and managing therapeutic activities (e.g., heart pacemaker adjustments, controlled release of medications).

Recently, the scope and significance of the human Internet led the U.S. government’s chief communications and information technology regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to issue a set of regulations specifically addressing use of wireless data networks embedded in the human body.

The FCC characterizes these embedded data networks as, Medical Body Area Networks (MBANs). 

In its recent action, the FCC specifically allocated a portion of the radio-frequency spectrum (ranging from 2360 to 2400 MHz) for use by MBANs.

The portion of the spectrum from 2360 to 2390 MHz will be used only for indoor MBAN operations at health care facilities, such as hospitals.  No FCC license will be required for this use, however, registration with the MBAN Coordinator prior to use will be necessary.

Details associated with the MBAN coordination process are yet to be determined. 

The portion of the spectrum from 2390 to 2400 MHz will be allocated for home use of MBANs and no license or prior registration will be required.

The FCC’s action opens the door to rapid expansion of medical data networking applications.

Devices and systems that operate within the frequencies allocated for MBANs will not require specific FCC licenses, thus MBAN operations will be able to expand quickly.

By recognizing MBANs operating both at medical facilities and in the residential setting, the FCC has provided a foundation for broad medical data network applications.

MBANs clearly have the potential to enhance both the quality and the efficiency of health care services. 

The number of valuable applications for MBANs is already very large, and will surely increase dramatically now that the FCC has provided a flexible framework for their use.  It is also important to note, however, that the data MBANs collect, transmit, and process are highly sensitive, thus the security of their operations is a vital issue.

When the integrity of a wireless financial network is compromised, money is lost.  When the integrity of MBANs is compromised, people can die.

As MBAN use expands, it is essential that the legal requirements associated with MBAN operational security are adequate and rigorously enforced.