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Direct 2.4 GHz Streaming vs. an Intermediary (2.4 GHz/10.6 MHz) Accessory - A Practical Observation

April 14, 2016

 

Wireless streaming to hearing aids.

 

LOVE IT. 

 

Having a severe hearing loss and wearing hearing aids for over 30 years, I say you can't beat it.

 

Typically there are endless possibilities, and with enough sleuthing, pretty much a way to interface with anything you want.

 

TVs, Phones, Headset jacks on airplanes, movie theaters, houses of Worship; even your ATM. 

 

I'm not an engineer, but using an engineer's credo of IF you know what you want and can describe it, an engineer can probably find a way. 

 

Therefore, I LOVE troubleshooting hearing aid accessories.

 

I'm not so sure everyone may feel the same way, since a lot of times troubleshooting and fine tuning, whether with hearing aids or accessories, can come down to the ability of one party to adequately describe what they mean to the second party (who then may or may not know what to do with that info). 

 

It often reminds me of the following scenario with my wife when I'm eating dinner:

Mrs: "How does it taste?"

Me: "It's a little sour."

*She stares at me, unsure, then starts shaking her head*

Mrs: "You mean it is sweet?"

 Me: "Yeah, that's what I meant. Sorry. Can I have some more?" 

 

Understanding what is happening and Using the right descriptors is key. 

 

Today, the hearing aid industry has a couple of different ways to make a wireless connection to hearing aids. It is not the scope of today's article to discuss the merits of one vs. another or to describe their features in detail, (I could write a novel AND lecture for hours) but to focus rather on an observation I experienced that may affect some end-users.

 

The two main methods of wireless communication is to either use a direct 2.4 GHz signal from say a phone to the hearing aids, or to use an intermediary accessory, often referred to as a streamer, that utilizes both 2.4 GHz & 10.6 MHz. 

 

I have used both of these configurations and while I have my own personal pros and cons list for each method, I did notice something that could impact certain end-users, who then may or may not be able to describe what is "happening" to their hearing healthcare practitioner. 

 

Note: I base this experience on using an iPhone 6s. 

 

End-Users may describe a situation where they experience their hearing aid responding to something happening on their smartphone. This could be a text coming in, a Facebook notification or music and sounds from a Game app. 

 

Why is this a potential issue? Because, in truth, disabling the sound effects in apps and silencing the sound settings on your phone may not result in completely disabling a signal being sent to the hearing aids via either a streamer or direct 2.4 GHz connection. 

 

Typically, streamers are passive devices, they are just passing along whatever signal they are receiving from the Bluetooth device (phone). Due to the nature of how streamers communicate using both 2.4 GHz and 10.6 MHz, you have the ability to "move" your hearing aids out of the communication range of the streamer if you don't want your hearing aids to respond to the incoming signal. That distance is approximately 3 feet (1 meter). So in the case of a streamer, push it away about 3 feet and the issue is mitigated. 

 

With a direct 2.4 GHz connection, it is a lot harder to "move" your hearing aids out of the range of the incoming signal because a direct 2.4 GHz connection, in theory, can have a range of 30 feet (10 meters). You may need to disable the Bluetooth on your phone to stop this signal from reaching the hearing aids, an action an end-user may not find completely desirable. 

 

This could be particularly bothersome to an end-user if they are using a different program, say in a noisy environment,  and may have adjusted the volume to their preference and then by using their phone (for whatever reason: Facebook, text, respond to a game), a signal was generated causing the hearing aid to move into a "streaming"  profile/program that may have a different default volume and feature setting. 

 

The level by which the end-user is "bothered" by this behavior  may vary across end-user profiles: new vs. experienced, open vs. closed fittings, mild vs. more severe losses, etc. 

 

It is completely reasonable that hearing aid manufactures may not be able to control the architecture on smart phones or the quality of the software coding in apps, particularity considering how often updates seems to get pushed through to our phones.

 

Therefore, as practitioners, recognizing the strengths and limitations of the two wireless streaming methods can make it easier to troubleshoot, counsel and manage expectations when using these products with end-users, because at the end of the day, they look to you for information. They have a level of expectation regarding how the the hearing aids and their features/accessories should perform regardless of where the original "issue/problem" may be generated from.  

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