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Mobile connectivity in community pharmacies

Pharmacy owners should look to improve mobile phone connectivity to push their businesses to the next level.

Colin Abrey of Nextivity explains the benefit of mobile connectivity in community pharmacies.

Community pharmacies have undergone radical change since the advent of Covid-19. At the height of the pandemic, this important sector had to quickly embrace digitization to continue serving the community. One example was the rollout of Internet of Things or IoT-powered technologies such as digitized prescription dispensing/collection systems to reduce unnecessary contact.  

Although digital technologies clearly deliver a wealth of operational advantages, many of these newly introduced prescription collecting machines don’t always work as well as they should because of poor mobile connectivity in the locations of deployment. 

For digitized prescription dispensing machines, or indeed other interactive services to perform optimally, an uninterrupted mobile phone signal is often needed. Not only will the signal provide the high-speed internet access needed to support in-app services, all one-time authorisation codes (OTAC) are delivered via text (and not wi-fi) because of its heighted security and its universal availability.

These OTAC codes are a fundamental requirement to digitized prescription dispensing/collection systems, as they are used for validation and authentication purposes. 

A wealth of other interactive services (digital signage and self-help kiosks, for example) also require reliable mobile connectivity. Without a reliable mobile signal, many are unfit for purpose. Moreover, the security associated with cardholder-not-present transactions has been further heightened, with consumers obliged to authorise payments in-app or via one-time pass codes delivered via text.  

Root causes

So what are the root causes of poor mobile phone signal in community pharmacies in the first place?

Building layouts and eco-friendly materials, deployed to reduce energy usage, along with an abundance of metal and glass shelving are the main culprits. These raw materials dramatically reduce mobile signal strength, particularly in far corners, stairwells or in basement car parks, where many of these self-service technologies are likely to be located. 

Until recently the only way to overcome the mobile connectivity woes has been through expensive operator-connected distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments. But limited budgets and a lack of in-house expertise make these types of installations unviable to all but large enterprise organisations.

Community pharmacies need a DAS-like system but without the expense or the complexities involved. They also need third-party support in selecting alternative options, the most viable of which is an active DAS hybrid solution based on mobile repeater technology.  

Now that the rules pertaining to the use of mobile repeaters in the UK have been relaxed, providing the levels of coverage needed to support these digitized services is no longer the arduous task it once was. Mobile repeaters are also carrier-agnostic, which means that they will improve mobile coverage levels for all users regardless of the chosen provider.

Installs can be completed in just a few days and the outcome will be better communications for pharmacy staff and customers, and a robust network infrastructure to next generation services like digital dispensing. 

Colin Abrey is Vice President, Strategic Accounts at Nextivity and has spent more than 30 years in wireless and international telecoms industries. He has held senior positions with several leading operators including Anixter, Zinwave, Cambridge Broadband Networks and Global Network solutions.

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