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Hancock Regional Hospital Using Wi-Fi for Nurses

by Michael Johns, Project Manager | July 21, 2006
Voice calls over a local wireless
network may be a perfect
configuration for nurses
Computerworld) -- Nurses should soon be using voice-over-Wi-Fi phones as part of an effort to improve their mobility and reduce network costs by using the hospital's Wi-Fi network, an IT official said.

"We think that technology will really take off, giving each nurse one phone and one number and using the same wireless network that data is already on," said Dan Allee, technical specialist at Hancock Regional Hospital in Greenfield, Ind.

Allee said he and consultants believe the switching and wireless access points added last year from Extreme Networks Inc. can preserve security and privacy for voice conversations and also prove to be reliable. About 50 nurses of a total hospital staff of 800 will use the voice-over-Wi-Fi phones, which are expected to be rolled out by the end of the year, Allee said.

The hospital, with 106 beds and five branch facilities, is currently evaluating phones from three equipment makers: Cisco Systems Inc.; Vocera Communications Inc. in Cupertino, Calif.; and SpectraLink Corp. in Boulder, Colo.

In general, hospitals have to take care when installing voice-over-Wi-Fi systems to make sure that private conversations can't be monitored and that the supporting hardware can support multiple users, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass.

Allee said Hancock installed more than 30 of Extreme's Altitude 350-2 access points (AP) last year to address the security and scalability concerns Gold cited. "We're very impressed with the throughput of the APs as well as the coverage," he said.

Voice streams will take a different pathway through the system than data streams, thanks to separate access domains governed by Extreme Summit WM series switches also installed last year, Allee said. The system has been tested to support "more users than we would ever need," he said.

In addition to the Summit switches and Altitude access points, Hancock installed Extreme's BlackDiamond 8810 switch last year as part of a $110,000 network upgrade to support voice and data convergence, Allee said.

The hospital already has about 250 IP wired phones on the system, some working at remote sites. Toll costs on some of the remote site calls have been completely eliminated, which will cut annual operating costs for calls to those sites by 50% over five years, Allee said. He could not provide an estimate of the overall savings, but said the convergence project has yielded greater network flexibility and the ability to support a wider array of collaboration applications.

Hancock chose the pieces of Extreme networking gear primarily because "they were the best in their particular line," Allee said. "They're big enough, and we wanted to make sure they would be around for a while." The hospital has been "very pleased with the equipment's performance."

Even so, Extreme doesn't have the "soup-to-nuts" products such as routing gear that Cisco and Nortel Networks Corp. offer, said Steven Schuchart Jr., an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

"Extreme has most of the network pieces, and they are starting to do security, while their switches and products are close to leading-edge," he said. Although Extreme is a large enough company that "there's no danger they'll go away," Schuchart said, it has lately been unable to win sales with the largest customers.

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http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9001617