A couple weeks ago I spoke with Bill Brook, Director Information Technology at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. They installed an InnerWireless distributed antenna system last summer and we talked about his experience. My questions are in bold.

wireless technologies are deployed as multiple point solutions;
InnerWireless offers an enterprise approach to RF distribution. What is
it that drove you to recognize that there’s got to be a better way?

Sometimes we try to make a long term decision rather than a short term.
(laughs) The real driver for us was we had to quickly deploy a bedside
point-of-care system from Bridge Medical. We needed to support 50 or 60
carts, or COWs (computers on wheels) with 802.11, a barcode scanner and
access to our Citrix portal.

The choices were to throw 100 to 120 access points in the ceiling,
cable each of them with power over Ethernet and continue to futz with
them for the rest of our lives, changing them out every year or so as
the technology changes. Or we could do something interesting with
this antenna system; put the antenna in once – it will last for the
life of the building (only 6 or 7 more years because we’re building a
new hospital) – and in addition to being able to deploy 802.11 (with a
lot fewer access points – like 10% of the initial estimate) we can also
hook in other services with the same antenna. That was a driver for me
because I’m also the telcom guy. We’ve got paging, and ultimately we
want to deploy wireless phones.

Once we learned about Innerwireless, we realized that we wouldn’t have
to go into the ceiling again. We have incredible infection control
procedures when we have to go into the ceiling. We talked facilities
into taking this approach, and Innerwireless trained our existing low
voltage sub contractor to install the antenna. The installation took
place over the summer of 2004.

You know what? I don’t have any dead spots any more. In the main
hospital, paging goes to places it didn’t use to, we can use wireless
PCs wherever we want to. We’re free to go to the next step, voice and
possibly connectivity with cellular vendors. The carriers (Verizon,
Cingular and Sprint) have been the biggest pain. In contrast, SBC
Paging put an antenna on the roof, connected it to the Innerwireless
antenna and it works great.

It’s been beautiful. Why do you do it? Because you don’t want to go futzing up in the ceiling all the time.

Part of InnerWireless value proposition includes the services to ensure coverage and minimize interference.

Yes, they provided excellent documentation with before and after coverage performance.

What is the process that they go through?

Well they come in and walk the halls with the meters and portable
access points, generating and reading a signal. They created PDF files
of before and after with color codes indicating the percentage of
signal strength you’re’ getting virtually anywhere in the hospital.

How do they model the building to design the routing of the antenna?

They have some intellectual property around that, but I don’t know all
the details. Their project management was fantastic. Their man Harry
Korosis was wonderful, and the nicest guy too, cause he’s dealing with
nurses and the low voltage contractor – so patient. He just
managed the project to a tee.

With the survey, they also determine where to put the directional
antennas that they use to supplement the leaky coax cable. This
provides coverage for a corridor or around a corner so they don’t have
to run the cable everywhere. In either case, everything goes up in the
ceiling, and none of it is powered – which is a real plus for me.

The only issue was with RFID, because the access point just sees
itself. But I’ve heard that they’ve solved this problem and will be
announcing something soon.

Are you running any 802.11a?

No, and we made the conscious decision not to go there. We will
transition to 802.11g. And quite frankly, who knows, tell me what the
technology will be a year from now. It might be something else
entirely. We’re satisfied that the throughput on b and g is going to be
just fine for what we do. Since we use Citrix for our core middleware,
we don’t push that much data across the network.

I don’t believe that a is going to be that popular, based on what I’m
hearing, and from Cisco as well. They (Cisco) never pushed us to go
that way. I’d already bought Cisco 1200s, then they showed me the
Airespace APs. We could have had the antenna system incorporate a at
the time of installation an an extra cost.

The Airspace APs are a lot less expensive.

Yeah but I already bought the older Cisco APs, and Cisco wasn’t going to take them back in exchange.

Do you have any wireless medical devices using the antenna at this point?

No, but could it? Yeah, I think it could. Based on my dealings with
Philips (patient monitors) and GE (PACS) I think they’d have a hard
time just making the leap to using a shared medium, just because
they’re a pain in the neck. They haul out “the FDA says”, and I call
them on it and we go from there.

We do a lot of business with Philips and GE; Philips has an alliance
with our HIS, Epic and we have a big investment in their GE’s PACS.

We already have our patient monitors wired. We don’t have the kind of
mobility requirement that an adult facility has. Could they
(InnerWireless)? I think they could. Do I want to wrestle with Philips?
Not at this point.

Even in a new hospital, I’m thinking I would run cable to the bedside
to connect medical devices because our patients aren’t as ambulatory as
adult patients.

Pretty interesting stuff. Thanks to Bill Brook for taking the time to chat with me.

On the medical device front, I did talk with Jim McCoy,
CTO with InnerWireless, at HIMSS, and some medical device vendors at
AACN/NTI. InnerWireless is presently working with a number of vendors
(Philips, GE and others) to validate their WMTS systems on
InnerWireless' infrastructure. The extent that each vendor will have to
validate will be driven by the regulatory strategy they pursued with
their product.