Tech Talk: It Is All Or Nothing For U.S. Carriers & Health

The world of IoT, the Internet of Things, has incredibly wide reach. Look hard enough and you'll find smart fridges, full home automation systems with a small router as a control hub and even something that can be injected in your eye. An immense number of different technologies and standards have gone into the field thus far and, for the most part, IoT has been on a steady rise. The biggest exception is in the field of health care, at least in the United States. While Canada's Telus may have been in the health game in their homeland for over a decade, a large number of players are involved in health care in the U.S., have taken scattered positions and held them for a while, and are, in essence, barring new entrants.

Of all the groups that have tried to get into the health market, wireless carriers are probably the ones that have seen the least return, collectively. Before IoT was "cool", Verizon was trying to allow doctors to remotely visit patients and AT&T was manufacturing connected socks and pill bottles. Surprisingly, the virtual doctor visits never really took off, while AT&T's offerings are still available today and are hanging by a thread. It seems that they never really got a good feel for what the medical field is into; their products never resonated with patients or practitioners. Regardless, they hang around while the scene consists of insurance providers and pharmacies innovating, hyper-focused startups finding a niche and sinking their teeth deep, tech companies toying around with crossing the line with things like smart contact lenses, and other carriers simply ignoring the nascent market.

In the U.S. market, dominance has by and large, already been established in most parts of the telemedicine field. From managed care to keeping track of patient records, just about all of the ground that's currently being covered is being covered from an extremely dominant position by startups that got into the game early or had a huge idea, or players like pharmacies and hospitals who were already in the healthcare field. While the likes of Google and Apple may be thinking up hordes of new ideas that have the potential to take the industry by storm, most of the ho-hum stuff is already covered. Where exactly does this leave the wireless carriers?

While they can always just provide network services to healthcare clients like they do any enterprise client, the two biggest carriers have essentially backed themselves into an all or nothing scenario and essentially locked other carriers out of the healthcare field in the process through their inaction. In order to win their way back into the health industry, carriers will have to analyze patient and provider needs closely to out-innovate the innovators and leverage their gigantic networks to make their innovations work out the way they should and integrate seamlessly with existing solutions. AT&T is making plans to open up a laboratory and is developing a smart wheelchair. Verizon is partnering with health firms to do technology consulting and provide network backend. Both of these are all well and good, and hopefully show a pattern for the future, but at this point, carriers' survival in healthcare is going to be 25 percent ideas and 75 percent execution.

All of the major carriers, at the moment, are embroiled in 5G network testing in some form. New technologies and new uses for old technologies are also allowing entirely new applications for technology, and the standards war going on in the IoT space is favoring cellular technologies, which is in the carriers' favor. The major players are courting the medical field and bringing telemedicine into vogue. The FCC is about to auction off huge amounts of spectrum that can be used for 5G and even built out in the future. The stage is set, so to speak; to be perfectly blunt, the stars are aligning to give these two the perfect chance to make a name for themselves in telemedicine and open the door for wireless carriers to compete in the space. Whether they squander this opportunity or transform the space is entirely up to just how well-received their ideas and products are. It's all or nothing for carriers right now, and the kicker is that they could change the face of telemedicine even as it is still forming.

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