How China’s Telecom Operators Are Revolutionizing Healthcare Services

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By Jake Saunders | 3Q 2021 | IN-6283

China’s public health initiative that incorporates internet firms has become even more effective with 5G’s rollout and more essential in light of COVID-19.

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Adoption of Internet in Healthcare Industry


In its efforts to enhance public health services, China rolled out its Internet Plus Healthcare (IPHC) initiative in 2018 to modernize healthcare management, innovate service models, raise service efficiency, optimize resource allocation, and to meet the rising demand for health services. Under this initiative, healthcare institutions are also encouraged to collaborate with internet firms to improve integration and sharing of regional healthcare information. These enhancements have essentially led to the rise of telemedicine and online hospitals in China. To date, the initiative is nearing its next stage— “IPHC 3.0”. IPHC 3.0 establishes the linkage between medical care, medicine, medical insurance, big data, and smart diagnostic systems to deliver a wide range of applications that could be operated offline or online. In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s three major telecom operators have revolutionized the traditional healthcare model with emerging technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, and big data.

Transformation of Existing Healthcare Services


Healthcare institutions worldwide could utilize 5G networks to implement Smart Health solutions, which are built upon and operated around cloud-based platforms and connected devices. The improved throughput and bandwidth of 5G networks would speed up the transmission of large quantities of information, such as medical reports and imagery. The reduced latency of 1 to 10 milliseconds of 5G compared to 50 to 100 milliseconds under 4G networks would ensure that health applications and services are ultra-reliable and can take place in real time.

In 2020, China Telecom launched its “5G + Cloud + AI” pneumonia intelligent auxiliary analysis system that relies on deep learning algorithms to significantly improve efficiency of diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 infections. The reading time of a CT scan is reduced to one minute from a traditional range of 5 to 15 minutes, greatly improving efficiency by up to 93%. In addition, the operator had also established China’s first COVID-19 remote consultation system that had been deployed across 208 medical and healthcare units nationwide, reducing the risks of healthcare workers from being infected on-site. The incumbent is also exploring applications leveraging edge computing and network slicing in the healthcare industry.

China Mobile has also been looking to develop its own 5G smart healthcare projects with other organizations, including Futian Medical Consortium and Huawei since 2019. The project had investigated into the establishment of 5G remote consultations, 5G mobile diagnosis and treatment, 5G remote emergency, 5G community first aid guidance, and 5G smart hospital wards. Through safe and efficient information sharing with other medical institutions in the region, it enhances Futian Medical Consortium’s overall medical suite of services. The 5G smart healthcare project was built upon 5G multi-access edge computing (MEC) and network slicing technology to deploy a regional private 5G healthcare network to cover in-hospital, inter-hospital, and out-of-hospital scenarios. This enterprise network relies on a “5G public network for private use” architecture, creating a low cost and high performing solution with wide coverage. The solution also allows for secure network isolation to isolate users within the private network from the public, while also enabling end-to-end physical security and isolation by allowing the MEC servers to connect to the hospital’s data center via a secure, private connection. In addition, China Mobile had deployed 15,000 5G standalone (SA) base stations to assure the necessary stable bandwidth and low latency needed during peak hours.

China Unicom recently launched its 5G Health Guardian program in May 2021 to provide 24-hour real-time monitoring, intervention, and management services for its patients. By connecting Unicom’s 5G network system to medical institutes and patients’ smart devices, it was possible to overcome geographical limitations in facilitating online medical diagnosis and active treatment. This has helped maximize efficiency in the distribution of medical resources to China’s public.

Integrating Technologies and Explore Innovations


The three major telecom operators in China—China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom—have transformed from being ‘enablers’ of smart healthcare to key stakeholders in China’s healthcare industry. As they share their expertise in providing technical support and solutions, they can support scientific and clinical research in areas such as mobile emergency care, remote diagnosis, and treatment. 5G networks has become the foundational infrastructure of digital transformation in the healthcare industry. With more than one billion active users in China, there presents vast opportunities for these incumbents. However, several factors like profitability difficulty and the lack of supporting policies could hinder the progress of the IPHC initiative. It then becomes imperative for operators to innovate existing systems and integrate health departments and other external resources to establish a coherent set of operations.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic had brought up the prospects of the IPHC initiative. In addition, China is expected is to reach 739 million 5G subscribers by 2025, making up close to 40% of the expected global 5G subscriptions. The three major operators are looking to expand and further develop their solutions and infrastructure, such as Integrated 5G communication modules to address the shortage of 5G medical terminals. Other operators around the world are likely be closely monitoring their performance to evaluate the prospects of diving into the healthcare and telemedicine industries.



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