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VoWLAN system analysis improves hospital's productivity

One hospital chose to use the cutting edge technology of VoWLAN and alleviated a recurring problem by using a software-based analyzer to locate the source of network interference.

Wireless technologies are increasingly touted as the solution to many communication problems, particularly in the case of voice communications.

For one hospital, voice over wireless local area networks (VoWLANs) was a choice that helped staff members -- nurses in particular -- save time and ease stress loads, once other interference issues had been resolved.

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VoWLAN: Preparing your network for a voice over wireless LAN deployment
By utilizing the wireless technologies of the data spectrum, many enterprises are finding they can place their voice communications onto the wireless data network, wireless local area networks (WLANs), and create a more effective communications system for campus environments, where the majority of employees are constantly on the go.

Industries such as healthcare, hospitality and retail are more inclined to be looking for solutions such as VoWLAN. With a primarily mobile workforce, locating and contacting the right person at the right time can be difficult in these settings. As VoWLAN technologies continue to develop, solutions that allow a specific nurse, doctor, salesperson or manager to be located either within the campus or through a voice system are becoming more practical and prevalent.

But even with the time savings and superior customer service that VoWLAN technology promises, its features are only at their most effective when wireless service is at its peak -- without interference from other electronic devices.

And interference can come from the most unexpected services. Most people still expect their phones to drop calls in an elevator or parking garage. But many expect phones to continue working in the office kitchen, where people are reheating their lunch in one of the many microwaves; as they stroll through the office, past the security camera; as they walk near the CEO's office, where he's using his new iPhone; or under the fluorescent lighting. Yet each of these devices has the potential for creating enough interference to wreak havoc on wireless phones and other wireless communications devices.

In one of the hospital buildings at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, staff found out the hard way about interference, to the point where it nearly made the hospital rethink using the solution that promised to save its staff a great deal of time.

For the employees of Wake Forest, the VoWLAN technologies offered through Vocera held out the promise that they could save time tracking down the right nurse when a patient needed attention or locating a wheelchair and bringing it to a specific room. In the first several buildings of the Wake Forest campus, implementation of Vocera went fairly smoothly, and employees were soon seeing the promised results of the new solution.

Resembling a Star Trek communication badge, the Vocera badge uses VoWLAN and voice recognition technologies to improve the communications of mobile workers in on-campus environments. Pressing a button causes the badge to call the system operator. After that initial action, all other commands are executed by voice, and the user is free to tell the operating system to call a specific person or department as needed. The call is connected to the recipient, who can accept or cancel the call with a voice command.

Although most of the implementation and use of Vocera had gone smoothly, there was one particular building that proved to be problematic. But nurses are not IT field engineers or administrators -- for them, problems often just have to be worked around because they do not have the time to deal with communications systems that do not work. As a result, it was some time before the full extent of the interference problem was realized.

When Vocera sent its own field engineers to the location to remedy the problem, it proved to be more extensive than anyone had thought. Initially eluding the field engineers, the problem continued and it became necessary to bring in more help.

The field engineers at Vocera began to use Cognio's SpectrumExpert, a tool that analyzes the wireless spectrum to hunt down problems. Vocera had already been using the SpectrumExpert for two years. Running the software on their laptops, the field engineers were able to pinpoint the device that was causing the interference with the hospital staff's voice communications.

It turns out that the interference was coming from a legacy patient monitoring system, and it caused the Vocera solution to hop frequencies as it tried to find the best frequency to work on. There was also frequency hopping from interference from the neighboring buildings, though that was the easier of the two issues to resolve.

Owing to the complexities of testing medical equipment, however, Wake Forest is still evaluating whether it will use the Vocera solution in that particular building -- it continues to use it in other buildings -- and whether it will replace the legacy patient monitoring system. The early and continued success of the Vocera VoWLAN solution in the other buildings presents a strong case for its continued and campus-wide use.

Vocera's confidence in the abilities of Cognio's SpectrumExpert came from its initial experience with the software. Having ordered it for purely evaluative purposes, as soon as the first of their engineers had explored it in the field, the entire staff of field engineers wanted their own copy. Other software analyzers did not meet Vocera's criteria as well as SpectrumExpert for on-site work.

"For us, Cognio's SpectrumExpert helps us understand our customers' wireless network problems better," said Robin Jellum, a system engineer at Vocera. "Using the SpectrumExpert helps us to maximize the capabilities of our customers' networks and keep them on the cutting edge."

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