essential to supporting a wide range of wireless applica- tions and also supports a public network for patients and visitors, which is segregated from the rest of the WLAN for privacy reasons. Verna admits he was ini- tially skeptical about Meru’s “virtual-cell” approach,
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which departs from the legacy “micro-cell” approaches offered by other vendors, by assigning all access points to a single channel rather than placing neighboring ac- cess points (APs) on separate channels. This simplifi es network design and rollout, as it means that channel as- signments and power levels do not have to be calculated separately for each AP. In traditional networks, however, it leads to co-channel interference, which reduces per- formance and interrupts connectivity.
“I didn’t really believe it would work, but I plugged in
an AP, walked away and within minutes it was up and I had a full RF signal,” Verna recalls. “During implementa- tion, we handed the installation process off to our cabling vendor; they mounted the APs and set up the antennas, and we were able to verify operation on the Meru console as each AP came up. “For a small, resource-constrained IT shop like ours, this simple installation and management is great,” he adds. “With other vendors, we would have had to con- fi gure every single AP on site. With Meru we can just set all the confi gurations on the controller, plug in the AP and go.”
Meru’s approach also reduced operating costs. “We started out thinking we’d need 170 APs and ended up getting the coverage we needed with 20 percent fewer units,” says Verna. “The end cost of the WLAN came in at about half of what other vendors proposed.” Brad Johnson of Atrion Communications Resources, the Branchburg, N.J., integrator that worked with Liber- tyHealth on its WLAN deployment, says, “As hospitals depend increasingly on wireless for critical communica- tion and documentation, it’s imperative that the network be stable and reliable. A single-channel virtual-cell archi- tecture is able to handle a huge infl ux of users signing on at the same time. We tried to ‘break’ it ourselves and failed, so we knew it wouldn’t break at the customer site. Meru’s WLAN is completely plug-and-play: if more coverage is needed after initial installation, the hospital’s IT team can easily install additional APs on their own.” The Meru WLAN deployment at LibertyHealth’s two hospitals includes 148 AP302 access points, which ship with IEEE 802.1a/b/g functionality but can later be upgraded to high-performance 802.11n with just a soft- ware update. They also scan for 802.11n security threats even when in legacy mode, ensuring that networks that have not yet upgraded to 802.11n are protected from rogue access points.
LibertyHealth’s future plans call for adding wall- mounted Ergotron wireless units that support emer- gency department information-manager (EDIM) systems, which document patient encounters and track patient movement and progress throughout a hospital visit.
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Two MC4100 controllers in each hospital provide redundant centralized management, connected to the APs through the hospital’s existing Nortel Ethernet LAN. The two hospitals are linked together by DS3 SONET fi ber.
Installed in 2008 in both the JCMC and Meadowlands Hospital (Secaucus), the virtualized WLAN immediately solved the wireless infrastructure instability problems that LibertyHealth’s IT department had been grappling with for years.