Dr. Ling Zhipei remotely implanted a neurostimulator into his patient’s brain on Saturday, Chinese state-run media reports. The surgeon manipulated the instruments in the Beijing-based PLAGH hospital from a clinic subsidiary on the southern Hainan island, located 3,000km away. The surgery is said to have lasted three hours and ended successfully. The patient, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, is said to be feeling well after the pioneering operation.
The doctor used a computer connected to the next-generation 5G network developed by Chinese tech giant Huawei. The new device enabled a near real-time connection, according to Dr. Ling. “You barely feel that the patient is 3,000 kilometers away,” he said.
Conventional 4G networks do not allow surgical operations to be performed due to video lag and remote control delays. The new technology seems to have resolved these issues, the surgeon says.
Medical institutions worldwide have made an array of experiments with robotic “telesurgery,” the most striking example being American da Vinci Surgical System. But the technology has yet to make a significant commercial impact, as existing gadgets are criticized for having a number of performance issues.
Remote surgery could allow people from far-away or poor regions, as well as war zones, to receive immediate help from top doctors around the globe. Due to its large bandwidth and low latency, 5G enables “extremely low operational delay” during surgery, the manufacturer says.
5G made its debut in remote surgery in January when a Chinese doctor successfully performed an operation on an animal’s liver at Fujian Medical University on the southeastern coast of China. In mid-March, Huawei’s solutions were used in the first-ever human 5G remote surgery – also on a liver – in a hospital in Shenzhen 2,000 km away from the doctor’s workplace in Beijing.
Huawei’s efforts in 5G have become an eyesore for Washington after the US-China trade war unfolded last year. The Trump administration has been particularly persistent in trying to blacklist Huawei worldwide over spying allegations. Tensions escalated even further as the company’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was detained in Canada on a US warrant in December 2018.
Along with Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, Washington has barred Huawei from helping to build 5G networks. It also prohibited US government agencies from using Huawei products for “security reasons.” Huawei filed a lawsuit challenging the decision.