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Is Wi-Fi Sufficient for Hospitals? Limitations & Alternatives

Planning a hospital Wi-Fi network? We’ll discuss how to set up hospital Wi-Fi, explain key considerations, and offer an alternative solution for the future.

Planning a hospital Wi-Fi network? We’ll discuss how to set up hospital Wi-Fi, explain key considerations, and offer an alternative solution for the future.

What are some key considerations for Hospital Wi-FI?

Key considerations when planning hospital Wi-Fi:

1. Reliability: medical staff depend on your network to send and receive information

2. Security: patient PII needs to be protected

3. Capacity: many users will be on the network at all times

4. Regulations: US federal law requires HIPAA compliance

5. Coverage: hospital buildings can’t have any dead zones

In an industry where there is little room for error, a hospital wireless network must be able to overcome networking challenges while remaining fast and available. Let’s first review the steps for implementing a hospital Wi-Fi network, and continue with an additional private LTE network for critical infrastructure.  

How to Setup Hospital Wi-Fi

Your implementation and design will be heavily influenced by your budget, coverage area, and application needs. With that in mind, let’s review some general tips for setting up a wireless network in a healthcare environment.

Start with a proper site survey. A site survey will give you a foundation to start your network planning and a good idea of how many access points you’ll need. Try to consider what types of areas that access point will be serving and plan for additional coverage if there’s a possibility that new or larger medical equipment might get installed in the area.

Centrally manage your access points. Use a centralized management engine to manage and operate your access point deployment. This allows you to update and maintain dozens of access points from a single location and push out saved configurations to keep the network consistent. Wireless management can be enabled with physical wireless LAN (WLAN) controller appliances installed on-premises or cloud-based systems that allow access through a web portal.

Triple check your network security. Ensure all hardware and software is up to date and on the latest firmware before going live. All Wi-Fi networks should be secured with WPA2 protocol and have an authentication system such as RADIUS in place. Many WLANs offer additional security features such as rogue access point detection and multi-factor authentication. Be sure to review and implement what makes sense for your hospital environment.

Creating VLANs for each service also helps separate network traffic and avoid any potential for a lapse in security. Guests, staff, IoT devices, and PHI services can all have their own separate VLANs. This may take more time to implement but will be well worth it when it’s time to audit security, implement new network rules, and perform troubleshooting.

Don’t forget about physical access. An often overlooked part of wireless security is the physical devices themselves. While most of the time the WAPs are inaccessible, you’ll still want to ensure that equipment is physically locked and any open ports are properly shielded from rogue devices.

Additional Options to Hospital Wi-Fi

New advancements in private LTE / 5G wireless have helped hospitals improve their network reliability for some critical applications like voice communications. Private cellular works just like the cellular service in your phone but can expand connectivity to areas where Wi-Fi may not be as effective (such as outdoors) and provides deterministic (with predictable throughput, latency and packet error rate) wireless connectivity for applications such as voice. These private LTE networks can now be managed by hospital IT staff instead of being managed by a wireless operator like AT&T or Verizon.

Just like Wi-Fi, private LTE / 5G uses small access points to broadcast its signal. Since private cellular operates within its own spectrum band, they operate with no interference from external sources by design. Also, the nature of cellular technology means you will have close to four times the coverage from a single access point as compared to Wi-Fi. This means that the same area can be covered with less number of private LTE access points, when installed next to a Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Private LTE / 5G wireless can be deployed directly over your existing hospital Wi-Fi, and utilize your current network infrastructure without the need for new cabling or fiber installations. This transition allows critical healthcare services to remain uninterrupted during a shift to private cellular.

Network-enabled medical devices such as glucose monitors and breathing machines can be whitelisted on the private network through the use of SIM card technology. These small cards allow the private LTE / 5G wireless network to identify and authenticate the device on the network simultaneously.

For example, in a private cellular network, you can specify QoS settings to assign network priority to life-saving equipment over non-critical services. These QoS settings can be monitored with artificial intelligence which constantly compares the current state of the network to the promised service level agreements (SLA) for latency, throughput and packet error rate. This system automatically adjusts and shapes network traffic to ensure critical services are always available.

The Future of Hospital Wireless

As advancements in medical care shift to a more interconnected approach, future hospitals will need reliable wireless networks to process and prioritize information at increasingly faster rates. While it’s still early, we can already see this taking place in hospitals through IoT sensors on essential devices.

These small cellular sensors can report countless health and environmental conditions in everything from dialysis machines to crash carts. Over time hospitals will increasingly rely on these IoT sensors to help perform preventative maintenance, locate hospital equipment, manage inventory, and even save lives.

The 5G standard has already proven that it can handle the high bandwidth low latency requirements that hospitals of the future will need to support these devices. By implementing private cellular, spectrum options such as CBRS in the United States will prepare healthcare facilities to support these new technologies in the coming years.

The Celona Solution

Celona partners with hospitals and enterprise organizations to provide private LTE and 5G services as a seamless turnkey solution.

Celona’s unique 5G LAN solution utilizes its software defined platform and its cloud-based artificial intelligence engine to make implementing private mobile networks an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing Wi-Fi networks, without interrupting business operations.

Plug-and-play access points can be quickly deployed throughout the campus, while proactive monitoring ensures network SLAs such as throughput and latency requirements are consistently being met on a per application and device group basis. If you’re building your network for the future, Celona can help. Check out our private LTE network planner to see what your network would look like on the CBRS spectrum, or test-drive our 5G LAN solution through our free trial offer.

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