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Remember The Restroom When Deploying Wireless

One lesson learned at Houston Methodist Hospital about going wireless: If the CEO can't get access in the can, it's a bad day.

7 Weird Wireless Concepts That Just Might Work
7 Weird Wireless Concepts That Just Might Work
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The paperless office may still be largely mythical, but the wireless office can be found in the wild.

In a Thursday morning session at Interop Las Vegas, George Stefanick, wireless architect at Houston Methodist Hospital, said he's celebrating the one-year anniversary of the hospital's all-wireless office.

"There's no fallback," he said. "There's no cable if something goes down."

All-wireless in this case, Stefanick said, means 99% wireless -- the printers remain tethered to cables.

Compared to a typical corporate office, where printers may represent a significant subset of the hardware on a network, hospitals tend to support a far more diverse set of devices on their networks. About 20% of the clients rely on voice.

"In my mind, having worked in all the other verticals, healthcare is more challenging," said Stefanick. "The next time you're in a healthcare facility -- an ER or hospital -- look around at how many devices are on the WiFi network."

[ Is your mobile strategy broad enough? Read Enterprise Mobile Strategy, Meet The Connected Toilet. ]

At Houston Methodist Hospital, that means wireless door locks and EKG carts. It also means robots. The hospital uses them for telemedicine and for its burn unit, as a way to avoid exposing vulnerable patients to germs.

(Image: Thomas Claburn)

(Image: Thomas Claburn)

These robots are controlled over WiFi using a joystick, Stefanick said. "It's almost like flying a drone," he said. "It's a bad day when it breaks in the hall and it can't get back on the network."

And when things go wrong, it takes a special kind of engineer to address the problem. Stefanick said successful WiFi engineers need to have backroom smarts and client-facing skills, because they have to go out and interact with people to diagnose problems and correct them.

Stefanick offered various observations about WiFi networks. Among them:

  • 80% of WiFi issues are client-related
  • 802.11n provides enough bandwidth for many of today's applications and WiFi deployments
  • 802.11ac isn't about speed, it's about airtime fairness
  • 80/160 Mhz channels are beyond practical for most networks
  • Large organizations are augmenting staff to focus on WiFI.

If that suggests a career opportunity, be advised it's an exacting field with little tolerance for bad service.

When deploying WiFi, Stefanick said, "Don't forget elevators, restrooms, stairwells, parking lots, all those areas where you didn't consider [network access points]. Because once you go live and the CEO can't get access in the can, it's a bad day."

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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