Setting Up Wi-Fi in a Medical Center: Performing a Site Survey

November 24, 2015, 6:09 pm

In hospitals, wireless medical devices transmit data that is critical to patient care. Whether stationary or mobile, these devices must never lose connectivity. Setting up a reliable Wi-Fi network in a healthcare facility is no easy task. Obstructions such as lead lined walls, liquids, medical equipment and even human bodies can make hospitals harsh RF environments. Because of this, it is important for IT managers to prepare and follow certain steps  when setting up a Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Step 1: Performing a Site Survey

In hospitals, the highest concentration of people is typically in public areas where both guests and employees have access to the Wi-Fi network. These places include waiting rooms, cafeterias, and atriums. While these areas have the most traffic, they are hardly the most difficult areas to work in when creating a wireless network in a hospital.

For example, x-ray rooms found in most hospitals, create some of the most challenging radio frequency (RF) interference to overcome. As a regulated safety precaution, x-ray rooms are encased with lead walls. While this lead lining protects people from radioactive waves, it also tends to interfere with Wi-Fi signals. This interference causes problems when a wireless patient monitor comes into close proximity with one of these rooms.

A hospital IT manager must ensure effective Wi-Fi coverage in a vast array of varying RF landscapes, from wide-open areas like cafeterias to small, lead-lined x-ray rooms. In order to properly set up this network and to optimize the efficacy in all of these disparate areas, the IT manager must make sure that a proper site survey is performed.

A site surveyor must get a blueprint of the building and a spectrum analyzer before a site survey can be performed. After proper measurements have been taken and added to the blueprint, the surveyor must systematically move throughout the building with the spectrum analyzer to find sources of RF interference or noise. When noise is found, the source should be plotted in the correct area on the blueprint and the channels affected by the noise should be noted. Based on the findings of the initial survey, the surveyor can then begin to place access points (APs) on the blueprint. The placement of APs must also take into account the cell size of the Wi-Fi coverage to minimize any channel overlap and to optimize data throughput. The use of specialized antennas can help maximize the coverage in difficult areas.

For more information, download our Setting Up Wi-Fi Infrastructure in a Medical Center white paper.

Keep an eye out for the next post in this series, Positioning APs, and don't forget to subscribe!