Near Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI) chip-and-antenna technology is being touted by experts as the next big step in mHealth security.

In a world where data security in eHealth is paramount, eHealth security experts are saying that NFMI technology offers significant security advantages over the more conventional Bluetooth technology, as a result of the way it functions.

NFMI technology is used to create a short ranged (less than three metres), bubble-shaped magnetic field around a central device equipped with an antenna, which can then connect to any other compatible device inside the field. Within the field, voice and data can be transferred between devices.

This unique technology provides a significant security advantage, as the connection within the field is essentially invisible when viewed from the outside.

The American CIA, FBI, Secret Service and even the Pope’s security forces are already utilising this technology to protect their networks.

“In two to five years, NMFI will become ubiquitous,” said CEO of Boston-based FreeLinc Technologies, Michael Abrams, whose company holds a number of patents on the technology.

“The future of medicine lies in connected health, and this is a form of mission-critical communications that healthcare needs,” continued Abrams.

Abrams refers to NFMI as being “anti-Bluetooth”, pointing out that Bluetooth’s long range communication protocol makes it vulnerable to hacking from over a kilometre away, while the NFMI electromagnetic field exists in a small limited area.

Furthermore, the limited field size means that an identical frequency can be used for independent purposes only a short distance away.

Abrams has also presented additional advantages in a February blog, saying that: “NFMI uses only a fraction of the power used by Bluetooth to move the same amount of information. The power level is so low that NFMI communications are below the thresholds set by the FCC, and the current NFMI personal earpiece already lasts 20 hours of talk-time on a single charge. You’re lucky if you get three or four hours out of a Bluetooth earpiece. Because magnetic fields are not affected by water, NFMI can communicate underwater and with deeply implanted medical devices. The FDA has already approved of NFMI.”

NFMI technology is not a new technology, having been used in some aspects of healthcare as a communications protocol for wireless hearing aids, cochlear implants and pacemakers. It is essentially a more advanced application of the much older Near Field Communications (NFC) technology.

Unfortunately, NFMI technology has some significant drawbacks. The technology has a limited data transfer rate, meaning that it cannot support the transmission of images or video from one device to another. Furthermore, some of the technology used in the platform has not been upgraded since 2002.

Therefore although Abrams admits that replacing Bluetooth with NFMI will not solve healthcare related security issues, he  envisions what he calls a ‘Cognitive Radio’; a service that combines the abilities of NFMI with Bluetooth, Wifi and ZigBee by “providing the handshake and encryption protocols only for devices inside the bubble.”

Abrams envisions the NFMI technology being used throughout healthcare services, from hospitals to remote patient monitoring systems.

“Our healthcare system is rapidly evolving to be able to remotely monitor our health and to treat us when it’s needed – not just if and when we get to the doctor. This is not possible without secure and reliable connectivity to the rapidly growing number of wireless medical devices that patients use, wear and implant. NFMI solves these problems,” concluded Abrams.

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