Diagnosing Healthcare's Wireless Network Needs
Integrator NeTeam Corp. used 200 ceiling panel, access point antennas to meet the security and aesthetic needs of a hospital's wireless local area network.
Hospitals are notoriously slow to adopt new technology. Their approval process is usually mired in a knot of red tape that, once unraveled, often yields a sales cycle spanning years rather than months. One integrator that knows all of this too well is NeTeam Corp. (Akron, OH). Healthcare is one of the primary markets NeTeam targets for wireless local area network (WLAN) installations. In fact, the company boasts over 1,000 hospital WLAN designs. With such a vast portfolio of clients, customer referrals obviously play a big part in NeTeam's new business development.
One of those referrals was a 700-bed hospital that already had a limited proprietary WLAN installed. "The client wanted to replace its existing network with a 802.11b-compliant WLAN throughout the eight-floor facility," explained James Portaro, chief technology officer and cofounder of NeTeam. "They wanted to use the WLAN for wireless data network connectivity, nurse call systems, imaging delivery, and portable phone connectivity." Some of the hospital staff were already using Compaq iPAQ PDAs (personal digital assistants) and notebook computers for connecting to the existing network. However, coverage of this network was limited and data speeds were slow.
Keep Access Points Invisible
One of the challenges of working in any hospital is finding a way not to interfere with the 24/7 patient care. To accomplish this task, NeTeam plans its installations around each hospital department's busy times. Sometimes, as in this case, parts of an installation must occur during third shift.
Security and aesthetics - in relation to the network's access points - are two other issues NeTeam had to contend with during this particular installation. The hospital didn't want the access points to be seen, both because of aesthetics and the possibility of damage from patients. Thus, NeTeam chose to mount the access points out of view on the backside of specially designed ceiling tiles. These ceiling tiles, called Iceiling Antenna Panels, are standard ceiling panels with Centurion Wireless Technologies, Inc. (Lincoln, NE) antennas embedded inside. The 3-decibel, omnidirectional antennas connect to the access points.
"We installed a total of 200 Cisco [San Jose, CA] Aironet 340 and 350 series access points and the same number of Centurion ceiling tiles," Portaro said. "In addition, we used 8 Centurion Terrace diversity antennas, 2 Centurion Whisper antennas, and 10 Centurion Microsphere antennas in areas that couldn't accommodate ceiling antennas [i.e. laundry]."
A WLAN That Can Support More Than 500 Mobile Users
According to Portaro, the network is designed to support 1200 desktops, 500 mobile clients (e.g. PDAs), and 100 wireless IP (Internet protocol) phones. The latter products were SpectraLink Corp. (Boulder, CO) NetLink IP phones which NeTeam provided (NeTeam does not sell handheld computers, PDAs, or notebook computers). Eventually, these NetLink IP phones will replace the hospital's traditional wired phones.
"The wireless network and its applications are an extension of the existing hospital information system [HIS]," Portaro said. "Hospital staff can now access patient information at bedside or from anywhere in the facility to both make decisions and take actions immediately." To access this type of patient information, NeTeam had to integrate the WLAN with the HIS, the radiological information system (RIS), and the picture archiving communication system (PACS). Ten NeTeam staff members completed the installation and spent three days training the hospital's IT staff.
This hospital is one of five in a system of hospitals in this particular geographic region. NeTeam is currently installing another WLAN at one of those other facilities and plans to receive approval for the other three any day now.