Wi-Fi: From the Stone Age to Star Trek

Some companies and industry sectors are finding the use of Wi-Fi to be a
helpful way to leap ahead to cutting edge technology while skipping intermediary
steps saving time and money.

Just ask Robert Israel, the CIO at the two John C. Lincoln hospitals in
Phoenix, Ariz. Thanks to a Wi-Fi network he installed last year in one of the
two hospitals, the CIO feels like he’s leapt forward several thousands of
centuries &#151 from using an over-head paging system to using voice-activated
portable communicators that run off a wireless network.

“We were not quite in the stone age, but pretty close,” Israel remembers.
“Now it’s like Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

The rectangular communicators in question come from Vocera Communications
Inc., hang on staff coats and are smaller than two-by-five inches. Linked by
Wi-Fi, the wearable communicators are a quick, efficient way to locate any of
Lincoln’s 1,400 staff, nurses and doctors.

“It’s like the communicator badges in Star Trek,” Israel says. “It gives us
immediate access to people.”

Before installing the Vocera system, the hospital usually located staff
through an overhead paging system, which couldn’t be used after 8 p.m. when
patients needed quiet and couldn’t be heard in many parts of the hospital.

“When you stop to think about it, it absolutely makes sense,” says Bob
Hafner, a research chief at Gartner Research. “Rather than paging a nurse and
asking them to come back to the nurse’s station” to find out what the problem
is, the Vocera badge allows a request to go directly to the nurse or doctor
where ever they are in the hospital.

“We leapfrogged,” summarizes Israel. “It’s almost night and day. It was a
very large step we took forward. The communications bottleneck has been
eliminated.”

Of course, the Vocera is just one example of how to use Wi-Fi to power a
leapfrog application. Any application that needs a network to run may benefit
from the mobility offered by a wireless network.

“You can deploy anything you want on the (Wi-Fi) network,” says John Yunker,
president and chief analyst at Byte Level Research in Escondido, Calif. “It
enables a lot of creative applications.”

Some hospitals, for example, are beginning to use Wi-Fi as part of a new push
to create digital patient records, leapfrogging from illegible scribblings on a
clipboard that hangs off the foot of a patients bed to computerized, complete
patient records that can be updated bedside from a Wi-Fi enable hand-held
device.

Records are more easily accessed and accurate when constantly updated, and
test results can be instantly sent from a lab to a Palm Pilot for bedside
consultations.

At the Lincoln hospitals, Israel plans to use the Wi-Fi network he set up for
the Vocera system to also power bed-side data entry through a system of handheld
computers and bed-side PCs.

Companies in other sectors are having similar experiences, when a network
installed for one leapfrog application can quickly become useful or
indispensable for other applications as well.

In the airline industry, for example, some airlines are installing on-board
Wi-Fi networks travelers can use with their laptops. In this case, Wi-Fi means
leapfrogging from no on-board Internet connection to a high-speed connection.

For the airlines, the same Wi-Fi network can double as a system, for example,
for automatically diagnosing and communicating maintenance needs to ground crews
before a plane lands, Yunker says. This can save time and increase flight
efficiency when repair crews can start working as soon as a plane pulls into its
gate.

This year, Lufthansa was the first airline to use the Connexion by Boeing
service to offer a commercial Wi-Fi network on flights. But about a half-dozen
other airlines have already signed up to use the service, Yunker says.

In the hotel industry, many companies originally installed Wi-Fi as a amenity
for business travelers with laptops but quickly found the Wi-Fi networks can
also boost the efficiency of the engineering and housekeeping staffs. Again,
going from walkie-talkies to portable, Wi-Fi enabled computers that offer a
leapfrog in productivity gains.

“With walkie-talkies, everyone hears the conversation,” says Yunker. But a
Wi-Fi-connected iPaq can more discretely inform an engineer about a maintenance
need down the hall.

For mid-range hotels that didn’t install wired broadband connections for
guests when those first became popular “to some extent have used Wi-Fi to
leapfrog their competition. And you can do Wi-Fi for a fraction of the cost of
wired connections.”

Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.

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