It’s a well known fact that there’s an overabundance of wireless devices in the U.S. hospital system. According to U.S. hospital data, there are on average 10 to 15 connected medical devices per patient and more than 350,000 Internet-connected devices in large hospitals.

Half of the connected devices found in hospitals are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Internet of Things (IoT) deployments are the most commonly targeted and hardest to manage since they consist of multiple devices and sensors, which continuously transmit data.

With the prevalence of connected devices in U.S. hospitals, security is at the top of mind for organizations like Henry Ford Health. The healthcare and medical services provider, which operates in the Southwest Detroit region, has established a new team to tackle cybersecurity.

Henry Ford’s director of medical device and IoT security, Ali Youssef, recently participated in a webinar with Extreme Networks to discuss the importance of connecting and securing hospital networks as they evolve.

The Network Supports the “Infinite Enterprise”
Enterprise networking used to operate in the headquarters—one building or one large hospital—but that’s no longer the case. Enterprise networking is now everywhere, which Extreme Networks describes as the “infinite enterprise.”

This concept has three core tenets: it’s distributed, it’s scalable, and it’s user-centric. All users expect the network to provide the same experience everywhere, said David Coleman, director of wireless networking at the Office of the CTO and the “wireless Jedi” at Extreme Networks.

The challenge facing healthcare organizations is providing a seamless experience everywhere, especially for mission-critical and high-bandwidth apps, over existing Wi-Fi networks. One disruptive technology that aims to tackle this challenge is Wi-Fi 6E, which is Wi-Fi 6 extended to the 6 gigahertz (GHz) band. Moving forward, every organization should be thinking about investing in networking equipment that supports 6 GHz.

Wi-Fi 6E Brings Clean Spectrum
For more than two decades, unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi has been available only in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, straining existing Wi-Fi networks due to growing connectivity demands.

When the Federal Communications Commission opened the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi in 2020, it created opportunities for innovation. The most important element of Wi-Fi 6E is the 6 GHz band, from which IoT devices will greatly benefit. Wi-Fi 6E provides up to 1,200 megahertz (MHz) of additional spectrum, lower latency, and faster data rates for high-bandwidth apps.

With 1,200 MHz of extra spectrum available for Wi-Fi, healthcare organizations can effectively double device throughput and get creative with using different frequencies for specific use cases, said Coleman. One such use case could be software-as-a-medical-device (SaMD), where the brains of the device is an iPad with sensors connected to it. Another example is using augmented reality (AR) instead of cadavers to train medical students.

“Would you want mission critical apps running on frequencies that are susceptible to interference and overcrowding, or would you rather have a 6 GHz superhighway that is clean and pristine? There’s a lot of value in that,” said Coleman.

Wi-Fi 6E: Enhanced Security
There will also be different levels of security and encryption capabilities in 6 GHz compared to the legacy bands. Organizations will no longer have to deal with open, unencrypted wireless local area networks (WLANs). They will be replaced with opportunistic wireless encryption (OWE). Additionally, antiquated security protocol pre-shared key (PSK) will be replaced with simultaneous authentication of equals (SAE).

It’s important to note that 6 GHz won’t support backwards compatibility for older security protocols. Existing wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) solutions cannot detect 6 GHz rogue access points (APs) and attacks since current sensors don’t have 6 GHz radios. Therefore, vendors with tri-band sensor capabilities will take the lead for WIPS in the 6 GHz band, according to Coleman.

The wireless workgroup bridge is likely to make a comeback as Wi-Fi 6E is implemented in the enterprise. In the early days of Wi-Fi, APs were transformed into clients to provide wireless connectivity for older devices that didn’t have a radio. With Wi-Fi 6E, the wireless workgroup bridge can be used for updating legacy medical devices. An Extreme Networks AP can be attached to mobile equipment and turned into a patient monitoring device, so it could communicate with mission-critical apps. Thus, hospitals can avoid buying new 6 GHz radios.

Healthcare organizations that have already invested in Wi-Fi infrastructure can deploy Wi-Fi 6E to expand coverage for specific use cases. For those building new facilities, Wi-Fi 6 should be implemented from the start, Coleman said.

“We’re experiencing fatigue when it comes to upgrades. With each generation of Wi-Fi, there are new features and enhancements. But the lifeblood is the spectrum,” Coleman concluded. “6 GHz is the future of Wi-Fi for the next 10 years and beyond. Emerging trends will happen with the availability of this new spectrum.”