Wireless LAN For Retirement Home
Maple Knoll Communities in Ohio has deployed a virtual cell wireless network from Meru Networks to provide ubiquitous wireless voice and data access for the 1,200 residents and 500 staff members at its two retirement campuses. Installed at a fraction of the cost of a wired network, the Meru WLAN supports applications ranging from a nurse-call system, voice over wireless IP for staff and PDA-based bedside charting to mobile training centers, financial management and personal Internet access for residents.
When the deployment is completed early this year, some 500 Meru wireless access points will be deployed at 54-acre Maple Knoll Village (Cincinnati) and the 85-acre Knolls of Oxford (Oxford), providing coverage in residential cottages and apartment buildings, nursing care facilities, a senior center and administrative buildings.
When IT Director Andy Craig joined Maple Knoll Communities in mid-2007, wireless networking was limited to a small section of the Maple Knoll Village campus.
"Wireless was one of the most underutilized systems we had in the company," Craig recalled. "There was a huge demand for technologies such as bedside charting and nurse-call systems, but in some older parts of the campus no infrastructure existed at all. We saw it as a great opportunity to get up to speed using wireless instead of wires. The cost difference was justification enough: putting a wired network in a large facility could run as much as $150,000. With wireless you can equip the same facility for under $30,000."
Today virtually every application at Maple Knoll that requires access to a computer network is performed over the Meru wireless LAN.
A recently installed nurse-call system lets residents push a button on a pendant they are wearing that sends an immediate signal to staffers over the WLAN. "We want our independent living residents to feel like they're in their own homes, yet at the same time have the confidence that help is seconds away," Craig said.
"Mobility is absolutely key to our operations," he added. "We can put nurses and dieticians right at patients' bedsides, doing charting wirelessly with their PDAs instead of hand-writing notes they'll have to input later at their desks. In our home health agency program, nurses go out to people's homes in the community, record data on their laptops, then return to campus and synch up to our system. We're tight on space, so we're constantly having to move things around; with wireless we can move our mobile training centers from room to room and set them up in seconds in a new location."
Maple Knoll's residents account for about 40 percent "and growing" of total WLAN usage: for personal Internet access, parties and other special events, even their own computer club.
Virtual Cell Approach Minimizes Time for Network Setup, Expansion
Craig and his team selected Meru's virtual cell architecture following a multi-vendor WLAN product evaluation. "Meru let us ramp up the technologies we needed, and gave us much more flexibility than the other vendors we looked at. We're a growing company, and Meru's virtual cell approach makes expanding the network far simpler than with other systems. Since all access points are on a single channel, there's no worrying about radio interference when placing them. That means it takes less than 10 minutes from unboxing a new AP to getting it working and having an entire area covered. With other vendors it takes an hour, because the APs are on different channels and you have to worry about precise placement."
One of the most important wireless applications at Maple Knoll is IP telephony, Craig said. "Our nurses, supervisors, security and facilities personnel all depend heavily on their IP phones. Meru's virtual cell technology easily addresses the stringent demands that voice puts on the WLAN. There can be hundreds of APs installed, but with virtual cell, an IP phone just sees one virtual AP. This simple approach allows for extreme mobility within the WLAN and seamless handoffs when it comes to AP hopping."
Maple Knoll's WLAN deployment uses Meru AP200 series access points, which support the IEEE 802.11a/b/g standard for wireless communication; and the MC5000 controller, a modular, five-blade chassis controller that supports up to 1,000 APs.
Meru's virtual cell wireless architecture minimizes WLAN interference and improves WLAN performance and reliability by using one wireless radio channel enterprise-wide. If more capacity is needed, additional enterprise-wide channels can be layered over the first channel. In contrast, conventional WLAN systems from other vendors use a "micro cell" approach, which assigns different radio channels to many small adjacent AP cells to ensure that no two APs use the same channel in the same place. This requires precise and time-consuming channel planning and AP power adjustments to work well, making it difficult to load-balance in dense environments, and limiting future network expansion.