Colin Abrey of Nextivity explains the role of 4G coverage in residential care in a post Covid-19 society
Over the last 10 years, wireless technology and sophisticated smartphones have transformed modern society; the way people work, the way they watch TV, the way they shop, make travel plans, and the way they pay for things. However, since the outbreak of Covid-19 mobile phones have been transforming the daily lives of those living in residential care by allowing them to remain in contact with loved ones in the absence of real-world visiting. Indeed, so important was the ability to communicate during lockdown that telecomms was declared a critical sector along with healthcare, and blue light services.
When the pandemic was at its peak, many elderly people were being rushed into hospital without their mobile phones or chargers, expecting to be there only a few days and expecting to have daily visits from friends and family. Many of those already admitted were being discharged to care homes to free up beds. Just like hospital patients, the majority of people in residential care rely on face-to-face visits with their loved ones and typically don’t own a mobile phone, never mind a high-end smartphone. As the situation deteriorated and strict measures were imposed to flatten the curve, people living in residential care found themselves in limbo, cut off from society without the ability to Skype or FaceTime friends and family.
In response, commercial organisations and individuals alike explored a range of Initiatives and phone donation schemes to overcome the isolation crisis. Companies that had recently upgraded their mobile fleets were encouraged to relinquish surplus devices to those in hospital or residential care. In a digital age, mobile phones are used for much more than just talking, they’re the enabler to a wealth of healthcare and well-being apps developed over the last few months to, help reduce anxiety, limit unnecessary in-person contact to lessen the burden on overstretched GPs
In parallel, hospital and care home staff are increasingly reliant on smartphones for patient monitoring and other routine processes; to ensure medication is being take regularly, that patient notes are up to date or to observe mood swings. This ensures all information is centrally stored and easily accessible, while reducing the risk of misinformation, or loss of information associated with pen and paper processes.
In the aftermath of the crisis, what has been highlighted are gaps in the ICT infrastructures underpinning day to day operations and internal communications in many hospitals and care homes. With the continued drive to reduce in-person contact through digitization and IoT and the risk of visiting hours being curtailed once again, never has there been a greater need for seamless mobile connectivity in these facilities.
Mobile connectivity is going to become even more important over the next two years as the UK continues with plans to replace its legacy TETRA public safety communications network with 4G. Referred to as the ESN (Emergency Services Network), this new public safety communications network will enable paramedics, police, fire services as well as first response teams to leverage digital applications such live video feeds, location based services or wearable tech. On the downside however, if a care facility does not have adequate 4G coverage, internal staff won’t be able to raise the alarm and first response teams won’t be able to effectively co-ordinate an emergency situation.
While care homes and hospitals are graciously accepting these smartphone donations and embracing the benefits of digitization, both are fruitless without a reliable mobile signal in the first place. As a result of building layouts and the raw materials used, ensuring seamless mobile connectivity inside any public building is becoming increasingly problematic. Materials like galvanized steel, tinted glass and reinforced concrete are the ultimate mobile signal blockers and turn buildings into mobile dead spots. While Wi-Fi may be available, it is often limited to communal areas or the quality of service is poor and data rates very slow. When residents were required to self-isolate in their own rooms, many had limited or no access to Wi-Fi or 4G and were largely cut off from society.
The only way to deliver the levels of coverage needed for regular and public safety comms is to take the outside signal indoors using mobile signal boosting equipment. Historically this has been an arduous task with long timescales involved due to strict legislation governing their usage. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.
Since Ofcom relaxed the mobile repeater rules, hospital and care home managers can improve mobile converge in their respective facilities using off the shelf equipment that is readily available and affordable. The only caveat is that all deployed equipment must meet certain parameters stipulated by Ofcom. One mobile repeater system that does tick all the required boxes is Cel-Fi by Nextiivity.
As daily life slowly returns to some semblance of normality, a crisis such as this has provided the catalyst needed to review mobile connectivity in all care homes and indeed all public sector buildings. Not only does this provide the perfect opportunity to ensure that these premises are ESN-ready, uninterrupted mobile connectivity is central to transforming unsustainable processes that are both costly and resource-intensive into more sustainable ones.