EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Verizon's Maggie Hallbach on the role 5G can play in the public sector

Maggie Hallbach, Verizon.
(Image credit: Future)

Maggie Hallbach is the vice president of business development and strategic sales for the public sector at Verizon. Hallbach's role involves leading the business development function that is focused on developing, designing and capturing strategic opportunities within the public sector. 

Hallbach's team is also responsible for strategic sales initiatives, including the alignment of sales priorities to the public sector strategy. And in this post we speak to Hallbach about the effect Verizon 5G can have on healthcare, how first responders can benefit, whilst also discussing how technologies such as Open RAN can benefit the public sector. 

Q:  Can you provide some examples of where you think 5G might be used to improve healthcare in the near future?

"5G will be a game-changer for healthcare – revolutionizing the way doctors train, prepare for and perform surgery and give patients access to the best specialists regardless of where they live. 5G speed, massive bandwidth and low latency will allow healthcare professionals to access a wealth of data - in near real time. 

Last year, Verizon lit up the first 5G enabled hospital at the VA hospital located in Palo Alto, CA. By leveraging Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, the VA is using Medivis’ imaging software and Microsoft’s HoloLens to help doctors prepare for surgery and train medical students while enhancing the quality of care for veterans through telemedicine. Using 5G and Medivis’ solution, MRI scans can be transformed into rich, holographic images that radiologists can reference in near-real time and even project onto the patient to better guide procedures. 

In addition to the VA, we’ve also partnered with Emory Healthcare to bring 5G Ultra Wideband to their Innovation Hub in Atlanta, making it the nation’s first 5G healthcare lab. There, we’re collaborating with Emory and its 9 Innovation Hub partners to spur the development of healthcare solutions powered by 5G. Some of the things we plan to test include how 5G could enhance augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications for medical training, enable telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, and provide point of care diagnostic and imaging systems from the ambulance to the ER. 

"Instead of running on premises servers with their high expense, hospitals can use the power of the cloud with GPUs available over 5G for ultra-low latency inference of video streams."

Maggie Hallbach, Verizon.

With Verizon 5G Edge, our mobile edge compute platform, Avesha, is working with several hospitals to test how machine learning inference done at the edge of the 5G network, utilizing AWS Wavelength, can assist doctors in identifying polyps in real-time. Now, instead of running on premises servers with their high expense, hospitals can use the power of the cloud with GPUs available over 5G for ultra-low latency inference of video streams. With 5G and MEC, they can more quickly and accurately identify polyps, by using the scope video feed and AI to pinpoint polyps that otherwise would be undetectable. Minimizing the distance between the cloud and the person or application leveraging the cloud capability minimizes latency for that person or application – a requirement that will be critical for healthcare applications involving augmented reality, for example.

In the near future, Verizon 5G will continue to keep healthcare institutions connected, helping improve patient experiences and accuracy in diagnosis, while simultaneously enabling healthcare professionals who are driving change by pushing the boundaries in innovation."

Q:  Beyond healthcare, which areas of the public sector do you think 5G will have the most impact on? 

"We see 5G helping various first responders including EMS workers, firefighters, law enforcement and military. In 2018, we launched the 5G First Responder Lab, which is a first-of-its-kind innovation program to identify technology companies, and give them access to 5G to test and refine their 5G solutions for public safety. The first three cohorts included 15 start-ups, who tested their developments on 5G Ultra Wideband, including autonomous persistent 5G drones for security and situational awareness, gun detection software using existing municipal cameras, computer vision heads up display for firefighters to see through smoke, and VR training for police officers and EMTs. The fourth cohort of the 5G First Responder Lab is currently working to accelerate 5G development of solutions to common challenges along the EMS/patient journey from pre-incident and emergency response to treatment and recovery, all critical for EMS workers on the frontlines struggling with a heavy workload and oftentimes a lack of vital information at their fingertips.

Through Verizon’s partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps at the Miramar 5G living lab, we’re testing ways the military and other U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) agencies can use Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband to transform operations ranging from communications to base security.

We are also working on a “Fusion center” proof of concept in a private 5G MEC environment with a law enforcement partner. The center uses machine learning to comb through video data to aid investigations. A concept like the fusion center could help greatly reduce the time needed to sort through tips and then use that information to help locate suspects."

Q:  According to the FCC, 19 million Americans still don’t have access to high-speed internet. How is 5G going to help, or will it simply broaden the divide? 

"With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we live life - high-speed internet is key especially when it comes to healthcare. The ability to deliver immersive, high-quality medical experiences for patients and physicians, anytime, could truly be a game-changer in a world where social distancing and remote working and learning have become the norm rather than exception. 

"Last month, Verizon announced new initiatives and investments to bridge the digital divide as a part of Citizen Verizon."

Maggie Hallbach, Verizon.

Last month, Verizon announced new initiatives and investments to bridge the digital divide as a part of Citizen Verizon, our larger business plan for economic, environmental and social advancement. As a part of Verizon’s core strategy, we continue to build on initiatives like Fios Forward, which offers eligible customers a discount that lowers the cost of fast and reliable Fios Internet to as little as $19.99 per month plus tax. In addition, our Emergency Broadband Benefit program provides Verizon customers who meet income-based requirements set by the FCC with temporary discounts of up to $50 per month - or up to $75 on tribal lands. Verizon’s network reaches nearly half a million more people than the next closest provider and we continue to focus on connecting customers all across the US, including in rural areas. 

In addition to keeping customers across all communities connected, we have invested in programs with a targeted focus on people of color in rural areas, including a partnership with the National 4-H Council to provide digital skills training, and year-round STEM learning programs in partnership with HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and community colleges across the country.

By giving innovators early access to 5G in our labs we can help prove that lack of proximity to healthcare professionals doesn’t need to impact the quality of healthcare one receives.  

Remote physical therapy using VR, for example, can take advantage of 5G’s low latency to make virtual interactions between patients and physical therapists seamless, with increased convenience. Such advanced technology allows for a convenient and accessible way for patients to access care from a variety of professionals, from basic care to specialists.

For healthcare professionals, augmented reality paired with super-fast 5G can transform opportunities for immersive, collaborative experiences to help doctors learn from anywhere and help to make the profession more accessible. Transmission of information and distance-based learning could be brought to a new level with 5G. AR/VR applications powered by 5G could allow hospitals to transport students who typically participate in a residency program to operation rooms in many locations, and be given an intraoperative experience with an upfront and up close view of delicate procedures remotely."

Q:  With the commercialization of healthcare in the US, what needs to be done to ensure that new services, utilizing 5G technology, are as accessible as possible? 

"The benefits of 5G cannot be ignored - but to make these new technologies more accessible, healthcare business models are beginning to change. With the commercialization of healthcare, healthcare organizations face a higher burden of proof in technology to ensure they have a compelling value proposition. For decision makers in healthcare, spending on technology just because it is new or interesting does not make strategic sense. 

That is why we must acknowledge that with 5G networks comes the need for new 5G-enabled devices and upgrades to equipment for it to fully function and there will be an associated cost right as many hospitals struggle financially. Based on the American Hospital Association’s analysis, hospitals lost an estimated $200 billion in revenue between March and June of 2020, as they reallocated resources from profitable outpatient procedures to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases. 

"A 5G network powering new 5G-enabled devices is vital for the long-term health of hospitals."

Maggie Hallbach, Verizon.

For an industry losing $50 billion a month, investing in new technology may not seem like the smart path forward, but for hospitals to succeed long term, they must seize on this opportunity to innovate instead of focusing solely on damage control to restore revenue. A 5G network powering new 5G-enabled devices is vital for the long-term health of hospitals. It can lead to new opportunities in remote healthcare, advanced rural care and ongoing accessibility that could transform the potential of telehealth.

Fortunately, stimulus bills have created seed pools of money for things like remote healthcare, advanced rural care and ongoing accessibility requiring a new business model and approach -- and we’ll need to do more to ensure that the industry has sustained access to these funding sources. Already, some health systems have pivoted with a transformative and better approach for their patients, employees and communities.

Q: How do you see 5G helping the US in its recovery from the effects of Covid-19 in the coming years? 

 "As the US recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers will continue to work remotely in some capacity, with 2 in 3 adults (who have worked remotely at some point during this pandemic) planning to take advantage of remote work to travel or work from places other than their home even when the pandemic subsides. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service is available nationwide in parts of 71 cities, and delivers speed and capacity capabilities that allow customers to engage in activities like collaborating with colleagues while they work remotely.

Last year, nearly half of Americans relied on telehealth  for all their healthcare needs due to COVID-19 safety concerns. With consumers continuing to search for options that allow them to live daily life without leaving the home, 5G can unlock the full potential of telehealth as demand and interest continues to surge.

Today’s tech-savvy patient will have high expectations for telehealth, but healthcare providers need to be prepared for the range of tech literacy patients have. Using intuitive tools that patients are familiar with coupled with 5G’s low latency and high bandwidth can deliver an immersive and seamless telehealth experience."

Q:  What is Verizon’s view on O-RAN, and how might it help in the implementation of 5G technology in the public sector?  

"Verizon is also engaged in several of the oRAN alliance work groups, defining the interfaces and working with vendors to implement the requirements."

Maggie Hallbach, Verizon.

"The move to a cloud native, container-based virtualized architecture leads to more flexibility, faster delivery of services, greater scalability, and significant cost efficiency in networks.  Verizon has been bullish in both the design and development of open RAN technology as well as the testing of that technology with great success.

Early in 2019 we announced the virtualization of the core of our network.  Our 5G core is designed with full virtualization in a cloud-native containerized architecture. Later last year, we announced that we achieved full virtualization of baseband functions – the heaviest portion of computing on the Radio Access Network (RAN). With a virtualized baseband unit, we are laying the foundation to be able to move computing functionality to the edge of the network and will be able to rapidly respond to a range of customers’ including those in the public sector, to address their varied latency and computing needs. Verizon is also engaged in several of the oRAN alliance work groups, defining the interfaces and working with vendors to implement the requirements. Open RAN is critical for 5G technology to reach its full potential."

We would like to thank Maggie Hallbach and Verizon for taking the time to speak exclusively to 5Gradar about the effects 5G can have on the public sector in the US and beyond.

Dan Oliver

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.