A pervasive perspective at CES 2021 is easily summarized this way: everything is (or soon will be) digital, and digital is (or soon will be) everything. The evidence is clear and plentiful in the numerous product announcements and in the conference sessions.
A great example of a relevant product is the BioButton from BioIntelliSense, Inc. The BioButton is the size of a coin, disposable, and easily wearable, and relatively inexpensive. When combined with connected analytics and data services, it enables unobtrusive, yet comprehensive remote monitoring of a wearer’s heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature. The solution got BioIntelliSense named a “Best of Innovation” CES 2021 Innovation Award Honoree.
Another comes from Omron Healthcare, Inc. That company has long been a leader in “remote blood pressure monitoring and personal heart health technology.” It introduced the healthcare industry’s first wearable blood pressure monitor, and the first blood pressure monitor with built-in EKG (electrocardiogram) monitoring. At CES 2021, the company introduced VitalSight, its first remote patient monitoring service. The offering combines a connected blood pressure monitor with a data hub that automatically collects data and shares it with a patient’s physician and care team. It can be integrated with electronic medical record (EMR) systems, and automatically send notifications when actions are needed.
Connectivity is a recurring theme in the sessions, too. Just today (Wednesday), in one session, representatives from GM, Deloitte Consulting, and other companies discussed how electric vehicles and connectivity are transforming the automotive world. In another, Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW International (formerly known as Weight Watchers), discussed how connected digital technologies are transforming personal health and wellness. And yesterday, a Lenovo “spotlight session” featured famed, multiple-award-winning filmmaker Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th, the Netflix series When They See Us), in which she discussed how connectivity is enabling richer human connections and greater empathy.
But here’s the conundrum. As the title of another Wednesday session put it bluntly, “Connected Cities: Only as Good as Their Connectivity.” Speakers from Boingo Wireless, IQ Labs, Qualcomm, and Verizon agreed. The most advanced digital technologies have little to no value if they aren’t supported by robust, secure, pervasive connectivity. And despite technological advances ranging from 5G networks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the growth of work from home and mobile digital devices, too many people in too many places are being left behind.
In remote rural and sparsely populated areas, network operators are constantly challenged to balance service levels against operating costs. It’s relatively easy to deliver high-speed wireless connectivity to densely populated areas with modern network infrastructures and still make money. In areas where there are few businesses and users, little to no modern infrastructure, and challenging terrain? Not so much.
So what’s a business decision maker to do?
Your first priority is to ensure that as few of your people as possible suffer from inadequate connectivity. In some cases, you can help by recommending, requiring, and/or subsidizing connectivity-improving tools, such as mobile hotspots and current-generation routers. Your business might also consider installing network signal boosters in company locations where signals are inconsistent. All major carriers and multiple other companies offer such solutions. Some research will be required, and your “mileage” will definitely vary.
In other cases, and where your customers, partners, and prospects are concerned, your business may have few or no alternatives. If you can’t get your constituents to relocate, and local carriers can’t promise any significant near-term improvements, you may have to resort to satellite internet. It’s expensive, it can reach almost anyplace, and it can support Wi-Fi connections. But it’s definitely not a “first choice” solution. Some assembly is definitely required. Batteries NOT included.
Eventually, alternatives such as low-altitude satellites and even airships (blimps) may help close connectivity gaps in even the hardest-to-reach places. And who knows? Maybe the FCC will figure out how to make infrastructure upgrades easier and more affordable for network operators serving or seeking to serve the under-connected. In the meantime, though, pay close attention to what’s really possible (and affordable) wherever you do business before diving headlong into decisions that depend on robust connectivity.