How to optimize hospital Wi-Fi networks

Wi-Fi is the "powerhouse" that allows hospitals and doctors to stay connected anywhere and deliver cutting-edge healthcare, according to a recently released whitepaper from the Wi-Fi Alliance.

"Connecting medical devices to a hospital Wi-Fi network can improve clinical workflows by providing wireless access to real-time patient data," reads the whitepaper. Among the other key benefits for healthcare facilities and medical professionals are that Wi-Fi allows medical monitoring devices to deliver "fresh, accurate information" and that doctors can access medical histories and background via tablets and mobile devices, "which means hands on healthcare."

However, hospital staff must have "confidence that all Wi-Fi connections are reliable and meet performance requirements dictated by the devices and applications used," warns the document. As a result, the white paper recommends that hospital IT managers should "use quality of experience (QoE) as a key performance metric when designing and managing their Wi‑Fi networks."

Hospital IT managers can establish and maintain high QoE levels through network design, radio frequency design, infrastructure and client device configuration, and ongoing management. To achieve these goals, the Wi-Fi Alliance advises several key elements, including:

  • Design and configuration of the Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide sufficient coverage and capacity for all devices
  • Incorporation of quality of service (QoS) features such as Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) to improve the efficiency of traffic transmission
  • Ongoing management of Wi-Fi networks and devices, such as configuration management and change control processes, to flexibly adapt to changes in applications and devices used

Commercial wireless products incorporating new Wi-Fi standards could hit the market later this year, driving a new wave of connectivity in hospitals. Once ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), 802.11ac will become the new Wi-Fi standard, supplementing 802.11n and enabling channel bonding and multiple input-multiple output (MIMO) technology which allows for sending data over multiple antennas simultaneously.

The 802.11ac standard operates in the 5GHz band, which brings less interference than the 2.4GHz. Although hospitals will still need to connect devices to the Internet using 802.11ac or 802.11n, they can use the 60GHz band of 802.11ad for high-demanding localized tasks. The 802.11ad version of Wi-Fi, a short-range technology, was ratified by IEEE in December 2012.

To learn more:
- download the whitepaper