Royal Ottawa Hospital plans wireless mesh network

When the Royal Ottawa Hospital opens the doors of its new facility in December 2006 it will also be celebrating the launch of a campus-wide wireless mesh network.

The Royal Ottawa Hospital has long been the main referral centre for

specialized psychiatric care in Eastern Ontario. The new building project will completely replace the old buildings with a modern 188-bed facility. A new research facility is also being built to house the adjoining University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research.

The wireless mesh network, based on Nortel’s Mobility Solution, will provide all of the hospital’s broadband networking, paging and security services. The solution promises to increase the quality of patient care by giving more than 1000 doctors, nurses and faculty increased flexibility and productivity by enabling real-time access to critical patient information anywhere within the hospital campus, the two organizations said.

By using wireless-enabled laptops and other handheld computing devices to access the hospital’s internal network, patient records, Internet, e-mail, file sharing and other applications seamlessly and securely while moving throughout the hospital campus, clinical teams will be able to make medical decisions more quickly than ever before.

“We are very dependant on data for providing care, so this kind of responsiveness is priceless,” said Maureen Moore, vice-president of finance and administration for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.

The network will cost about $800,000 less to install but will require $300,000 less in annual maintenance costs. Currently the hospital spends about $3 million each year on IT, said Bruce Swan, ROHCG’s president and CEO. According to Swan, the financial benefits don’t stop there but become much harder to calculate. For example, valuable staff time will be saved by cutting response times and increasing efficiency. And each time a staffer moves from one office to another it costs about $2000 in IT support costs, costs that will disappear if people can just pack and move.

“We’ve taken the existing wireless LAN technology (802.11a and 802.11b for 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz respectively) and combined them with new technologies – ad hoc networking and peer-to-peer communications to expand the coverage of wireless LANs,” said Al Javed, vice-president, wireless networks technology, Nortel Networks.

“These technologies are massively deployed in homes, but can only cover up to about 50 metre or so before you have to put in a hard link,” he said. “Now the radios can talk to each other and set up communications protocols. WMN really coverts ‘hot spot’ applications into ‘hot zone’ applications, so you really deliver the value of wireless LANs over a wide area.”

The network uses a series of nodes arranged about 200 metres apart in a grid. Each node (which costs about $2,000) contains six directional antennas and at certain points the network is plugged into the Internet through hardwired gateways.

“The cost of deployment is very low. It’s a very neat solution for a campus environment whereby you can provide high-speed access at a very reasonable cost. All it needs is power,” he said.

Peter Jarich, a principal analyst with Sterling, Va.-based research firm Current Analysis, said he expects wireless mesh technologies to have a significant impact on the networking environment as it matures. “People have talked about wireless mesh for years. But I don’t think they’ve really understood the value (it offers).”

Nortel has already sold a number of WMNs. In addition to a series of university campuses, NASA will set one up at Cape Canaveral to provide journalists covering launches with ubiquitous access and the city of Taipei will deploy a 10,000 node, city-wide network by the end of the year.

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