WiFi is dynamic. It fluctuates throughout the day, responding to the environment. As users, devices and applications drop in and off of the network, the performance of your WiFi will be affected, sometimes leading to slower downloading / uploading speeds and occasionally network outages. An experienced wireless network designer can make assumptions about your wireless environment based on things like industry and average daily users, and design a wireless network that is more resilient to these fluctuations. Even the best laid designs can experience performance issues, so you must have someone monitoring and managing your WiFi.
Simple right? Maybe not. Some environments may be harder to manage than others. Factors like building materials, number of floors, and types of applications used, vary by location, and often by industry.
In healthcare, for instance, it is very common to have multiple floors, concrete walls, drop ceilings, large numbers of IoT and personal devices, and important applications executing commands throughout the day and night. This makes for a very complex design and a difficult to manage wireless network environment that can prove quite the challenge for even the most seasoned IT exec. Imagine trying to troubleshoot a connectivity issues in an environment with thousands of Access Points across multiple floors and locations, filled with doctors, nurses and patients flying around, relying on wifi connectivity for life-saving applications...
No problem. With over 12 years of experiencing designing, deploying and managing wireless infrastructure in the healthcare industry, we’ve learned a few things about common WiFi problems and how to solve them.
Read on to see what may be causing WiFi performance issues in your environment, and how SecurEdge WiFi can help.
One of the biggest determinants for wireless hardware placement in any wireless environment, is capacity needs. Whether you’re designing for a university campus or a beauty salon, you need to consider where, and when, people congregate in your coverage area throughout the day.
The unique thing about a hospital wireless environment, is that it is occupied 24/7 and times and capacity can be unpredictable or hard to gauge.
For this reason, it is important to create a full-proof wifi network, designed to accommodate high density in all areas, a wide range and large number of IoT and wireless devices, and a variety of users. Designing for capacity is the first step toward creating an easier- to - manage wifi network. Here are some factors to consider:
Areas of high density may change throughout the day or night in a hospital environment and can change in the blink of an eye. While some areas are easy to plan for (you know the max capacity of the waiting room, the nurses station is a popular area for staff and faculty to congregate, the cafeteria gets packed at various hours throughout the day etc.) but other areas, like hallways, patient rooms, and courtyards can be harder to predict.
This makes managing the network a potential nightmare. Not only does fluctuation or unpredictable density make it harder to locate and troubleshoot WiFi problems, it can make it physically difficult to fix the problem. Its not always so easy to manage an access point that's in the middle of a busy hallway or bustling waiting room.
In a hospital environment, maybe more importantly than in any other industry, designing for max capacity is a must. This ensures that no matter what the case, you’re faculty, staff and patients have reliable, secure wireless connectivity, so that your healthcare services are optimal and patients are getting the best care and experience possible.
Another unique feature of a healthcare environment wireless network, is the sheer number of wireless devices trying to connect the network at any given moment. Accounting for all of those devices, and making sure that they are connecting properly is a big challenge for the IT team in charge of managing the network.
Take into consideration too, the number of health related devices and applications that have been introduced just in the last ten year. While these advancements have proved to be invaluable, they have created complex issues for wireless network technology and management. Today, WiFi network infrastructures are rendered obsolete about every 4 years, due to software updates and new device technologies- pioneered by the iPhone, whose yearly releases since 2004 has set the standard for wireless evolution. In healthcare, this turnaround may be even quicker, as life-saving technology evolves seemingly daily.
So if it’s been more than 3 or 4 years since your wireless network was deployed, there is a good chance you have started experiencing WiFi performance issues. To stay astride of the increasing number and quality of devices, it is recommended that you plan to refresh your wireless network every 48 months. The latest WiFi technology also includes a lot of new tools like performance monitoring sensors and live-time feedback that will drastically improve wifi management.
In addition to personal devices of patients and staff, the number of IoT devices in use in medical facilities has grown rapidly, putting a lot of pressure on hospital IT to manage the growing demand on the network.
To circumvent these management issues, it important that you plan for the future. Whether you are preparing a wireless design for a new facility or updating an existing one, you should not only plan to accommodate for the number of users and devices currently on your network, but to prepare your network for the next few years ahead.
According to Forbes, the IoT is predicted to rise to 31 billion devices by 2020! That’s a lot. And many of them are life-saving devices, communication, security, or environmental control devices that will be implemented in hospitals and clinics across the world. If you are currently having troubles managing your WiFi, then now is the time to improve your WiFi conditions so that you can keep up with the growing IoT demand.
Another problem with managing hospital WiFi networks, is how to keep all those devices, users and applications separate. If you have only one network, all of your users and devices are being treated equally by your access points and firewalls. That means Jim streaming New Girl in the waiting room is getting the same treatment as the doctors and nurses relying on the network for communication and life-saving applications.
If this sounds like a common problem, then its time to introduce segmentation. Segmenting your traffic into different networks allows you to assign different permissions to different types of users and devices. This is commonly referred to as Role-based Access Control. Implementing RBAC not only improves performance of all your wireless devices, allowing you to prioritize important devices like life-saving IoT or staff communication devices, but also provides heightened security so that all of your users and private information are protected.
An experienced wireless design engineer can help you decide how best to segment your network. Introducing a Guest WiFi network is a great way to keep patient devices off of your main network and away from interfering with the performance of faculty and staff applications, as well as provide them with a service that will help improve the patient experience.
It is also common practice to create a separate network for IoT devices, work devices, and employee personal devices. Not all healthcare wireless environments are the same, so its important to speak with a professional wireless network design engineer to determine the best option for your coverage area.
Which brings us to...
Managing a hospital wireless network has many challenges relating to capacity, but that’s just half of the story. The other problems you may be facing in regulating your WiFi, probably comes down to coverage.
Every environment is different. The number or floors and buildings may vary. The coverage needs for outdoor spaces like atriums, dining areas and courtyards needs to be considered. The square footage and building materials are big factors for determining coverage needs. Answering these questions are paramount to getting the correct WiFi design for your unique coverage area and ultimately giving you the best chances at managing your network efficiently. Managing your coverage area correctly comes down to two main problems:
Managing a hospital WiFi network can be a complex process, as there are many important things to consider, and the coverage area is typically quite large. It is important to have accurate floor plans to help your engineers design an accurate wireless network solution, which will improve the management of your network down the road.
If you have multiple buildings in your hospital network that are in need of coverage, then you will need detailed information about each to ensure reliable network connection for all of your users and devices throughout the day. The number of buildings and floor have a major impact on your design and can make it more difficult to manage, as there could be thousands of APs across a large area. This could make identifying and troubleshooting WiFi problems difficult for even the most seasoned IT technician.
Another complexity of managing hospital WiFi is the need for roaming. Faculty, staff and patients move about your wireless environment, sometimes rather quickly or continuously. This creates a high demand for your access points, which must work together to pass of devices from one AP to the next as you move about the coverage area.
When designing your wireless network, it is important to have the right number of access points in the right locations to improve roaming and lessen the chances of performance issues. This is the first step in creating a network that is easier to manage.
Timing. It can be the difference between love at first sight and heartbreak. The difference between a home run and a strike out. The difference, potentially, between life and death.
This creates a lot of pressure for hospital IT managers, who are facing not only the complexities of managing such a large wireless network, but under the pressure of time. Having access to software that provides live-feedback of WiFi performance can improve the management of hospital wireless.
Want to learn more? Get in touch with one of our WiFi specialists who can answer any questions you may have about wireless network designs from SecurEdge.