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INNOVATOR 2005: University of Miami


AT THE UNIVERSITY of Miami, a pervasive WLAN significantly
improves medical education and provides truly mobile patient care.
Pervasive WLAN for Medical Education and Healthcare Delivery University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine / Meru Networks
As a major academic medical center, University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and the university’s Jackson Memorial Medical Center recognized early on the significant role of wireless networks in supporting the delivery of healthcare, education, and research activities. By enabling timely communications, a mobilized workforce, and providing real-time access to patient data, WLANs could improve overall patient care and increase the efficiency of healthcare delivery through better resource management and more streamlined administrative procedures. Additionally, with the blurring of lines between biomedical and IT disciplines, the university’s medical and medical education facilities saw the need to migrate to a pervasive WLAN deployment that could take full advantage of this convergence.

Technology Choice/Project Design

With millions of square feet of classroom, hospital, clinic, laboratory, and administrative space to cover, wireless networking would be a strong supplement to traditional cabled infrastructure, to provide network access. The medical school and hospital looked at several WLAN technologies and needed to find a product that was easy to deploy, required minimal maintenance, and minimized the site surveys required. Additionally, administrators knew they needed real-time rogue access point (AP) detection and mitigation capabilities. Standards, scalability, and extensibility were also key factors in choosing a wireless technology for the mobile healthcare strategy. The Miller School of Medicine is large, with many departmental moves and changes from one facility to the next. Administrators needed a platform that could easily support these constant shifts in density and coverage requirements.

Support for future applications was another key concern. The selected infrastructure had to meet the rigorous demands of current and future hospital applications, ranging from wireless patient charting systems and mobile EKG machines—beds that monitor patient vital statistics and relay them to nurse stations— to wireless video transmissions that educate patients about their health issues.

The WLAN initiative team eventually selected Meru Networks (, because the entire Meru WLAN system could operate on one channel to deliver converged voice, data, and even video services with automatic coverage optimization and load balancing, to compensate for shifting user density and application loads.

Key Players
Clinicians/faculty, patients, hospital administrators, visiting professors, guests, and IT staff all stand to benefit from the WLAN. According to Chris Bogue, director of Information Technology, and Information Security officer, “Our primary technical lead was our network manager, Frank Rodriguez, with his technical support staff. We evaluated several technologies with a focus on providing information access anytime, anywhere at the medical center. The design centered on enabling secure access to electronic medical records, enabling future technologies such as wireless voice, video and data services, as well as upcoming RFID initiatives. We have a highly skilled network engineering staff experienced with wireless networking, telephony, and information security. Our primary concerns with deployment, management, and maintenance of a wireless LAN covering some three million square feet of indoor space were ironed out once we set up side-by-side pilots of similar WLAN technologies. We are currently working with IBM ( to deploy a voice-activated communication system on the wireless network.”

Wireless networking is a natural fit for a highly dynamic and mobile clinical environment. However, implementing wireless technologies in hospitals poses myriad technical challenges unlikely to be found in other mission-critical enterprise wireless networking environments. Says Bogue, “Our primary concerns were adherence to stringent security requirements, addressing numerous autonomous administrative domains, mitigating reliability concerns, addressing uncertainty surrounding device types and applications, dealing with limited IT resources, and constantly changing density requirements for voice and data services. Overcoming these challenges is no small matter. To do this on the scale of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center is tremendous testament to other institutions that the promise of mobile healthcare is indeed achievable.”

With the completion of Phase I, most of the U of M/Jackson Memorial Medical Center divisions—including the Bascom/Palmer Eye Institute; facilities in West Palm Beach, Naples, and Deerfield Beach; and several other clinics—have WLAN coverage and are tied together via private wireless bridges. To date, wireless APs have been deployed for student use in medical school lecture halls, as well as all of the hospital operating supporting mobile clinical information systems. There is also an ongoing expansion of deployment of mobile wireless carts in key hospital areas to support registration, medical records access, patient scheduling, and clinical information applications. “We believe our deployment here is different in that it is completely pervasive throughout the entire medical center and addresses all aspects of wireless networking here,” says Bogue. “Guest users, registered users, mobile carts, wireless PDAs, and voice services are all using the same infrastructure with varying levels of security. In the last four months, we’ve seen a 26 percent increase in the amount of wireless devices using this network, and it’s rising.There is a clear need to mobilize the workforce.”


With the expansion of its WLAN deployment, the IT team began to encounter the usual issues with rogue access points set up by students or others who wanted to jump on the wireless bandwagon more quickly than specified in the IT department’s rollout plans.

A related issue surfaced when the IT staff deployed indoor access points adjacent to the Community Cloud’s outdoor coverage area. With the outdoor WLAN equipment running on 802.11 channel 11, it was necessary to provision the indoor APs on the two unused 802.11 channels. Doing so, however, created a catch-22 situation because it was so difficult to simultaneously minimize interference and provide 100 percent coverage with only two alternating channels. The Meru product allowed the team to place all APs on the same channel to enable full coverage, inside and out.

Next Steps
The implementation team is currently deploying the Vocera communication system (, giving staff and faculty the ability to communicate with each other at any time, using the wireless infrastructure. Guests, patients, and family members at the medical facilities are already using the wireless network to surf the Web while waiting for a family member.
Says Bogue, “Keep the deployment process as simple as possible! Don’t be afraid to consider new technologies outside your normal comfort zone. That was our biggest initial hurdle. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing.