AT&T, VA start 5G rollout at Puget Sound health care hub

AT&T and the Veterans Affairs Department turn the lights on for a 5G and related multiple-access edge computing network at one of the VA’s largest health care hubs.

AT&T and the Veterans Affairs Department have in partnership turned the initial lights on for a 5G and related multiple-access edge computing network at one of the VA’s largest health care hubs.

While there is more to come, the Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle now has a distributed antenna system compatible with the needed spectrum and other components needed to enable 5G capabilities.

The Puget Sound system’s new mental health and research building is one of those components that now has 5G coverage. AT&T and the VA eye further deployments of multiple-access edge computing and 5G spectrum later this year at faster speeds and better latency throughout the complex.

It is the so-called MEC component that may be the underlying linchpin for ensuring the network covers a space at the size of a VA health care delivery hub.

Garrick Yahnke, area vice president at AT&T’s public sector arm, said the age of many of these buildings is a factor to consider when planning the rollout of a new network and its infrastructure.

“By putting MEC in these buildings, we can ramp up the capabilities, thereby allowing the agency to ramp up the capabilities they’re providing to veterans,” Yahnke added.

Take the ability to transmit large files for instance as one capability, whether that be medical imagery or other data on patients.

“Now with 5G and MEC, they’re going to be able to do that stuff very quickly,” Yahnke said.

Daniel Mesimer, director of wireless and local area network engineering and provisioning solution delivery for the VA, told WT that Puget Sound’s proximity to greater Seattle meant this deployment can be close to that region’s technology community.

He also pointed to what the implications are for telemedicine, which stands to be a key aspect of health care going forward.

“Effective telemedicine requires a network that can support near real-time high-quality video without slowing down the facility’s network,” said Meismer, an official in the VA’s Office of Information and Technology. “Adding a high-speed 5G network to existing architectures can support near real-time video for video-based medical consultations to improve access to care, quality of care and care outcomes.”

For AT&T, this is the first 5G and MEC deployment it has done in a hospital setting so there will be a point of emphasis on learning given this is a transition to an entirely new networking environment. Some things have already been found out.

“We learned that some of the equipment needs to be completely replaced. 5G is different than 4G and requires newer infrastructure than it currently had in existence,” Yahnke said. “We were hoping that we would be able to upgrade the distributed antenna system and save some implementation time.

“We’re learning along the way as well, so it’s why it’s a partnership with the agency, and we’re going to learn this stuff together.”