Case study: Bad WiFi setup cost Adelaide aged care facility

“What we had installed was based on a budget, not on any science," said Bethsalem Care CEO Darryl Pitcher

WiFi and IP phone issues plagued Bethsalem Care since it opened a new facility in the early 2000s.

WiFi and IP phone issues plagued Bethsalem Care since it opened a new facility in the early 2000s.

Bethsalem Care, an aged care facility in Adelaide, suffered years of poor WiFi and IP telecommunications before learning that faulty configuration was to blame.

Bethsalem Care is a Christadelphian-owned aged care facility located on 7 hectares in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Bethsalem Care has been in operation for about 60 years, but opened a new facility in the early 2000s. The facility has 90 patients and 130 staff.

“The intention was to have integrated security, nurse call and telecommunications all running on one platform,” Bethsalem Care CEO Darryl Pitcher told Computerworld Australia.

But there were serious problems with the system when Pitcher joined Bethsalem Care in October 2010.

“We had a WiFi system that was inadequate, we had a phone system that was failing us, we had a botched job of integration between door intercom stations and mobile staff, and basically there was just utter and complete frustration and lack of confidence in telecommunications.”

Bethsalem Care had just replaced the original proprietary WiFi system with one by Allied Telesis shortly before Pitcher arrived, however it was still not providing adequate coverage, he said.

“What we had installed was based on a budget, not on any science,” Pitcher said. “No proper heat map of the building was ever done, no proper survey was ever done to identify the best location for any wireless access points.”

Meanwhile, a proprietary, “pseudo digital" IP-PABX phone system by Nortel had become “significantly unstable,” he said. On Pitcher’s first day on the job, the system went down twice. “You could not make an outside phone call; you could not make a call between phones.”

Pitcher added that there had been a two-week period over Christmas 2009 when the phones didn’t work at all.

Pitcher began a trial of Motorola phones and started to search for a new WiFi provider.

“I had already made up my mind to throw out the Allied Telesis network and had gone to a number of other WiFi providers.”

But when Pitcher was just about to rip out the WiFi network for good, an Allied Telesis representative promised to visit the facility to investigate the problem.

The official immediately identified that the WiFi network was set up poorly and promised to fix it, Pitcher said. There were not enough access points, and the ones the facility had were configured incorrectly—mounted on the ceiling and pointed at the floor.

The Allied Telesis rep “gave a commitment to me ... without a requirement for me to give any capital outlay and he agreed to come and do a complete survey of the site and offer a solution that would give us an adequate WiFi network.

“In a matter of weeks, I had a proposal to increase the number of wireless access points from the eight that had been installed to the 22 that were required.”

The cabling, reconfiguration of IT infrastructure and other implementation steps took about two months, and the WiFi network has been up and running for about 15 months, Pitcher said. “We’ve now got an integrated system that’s doing what I need it to do.”

Some problems remain, he said. “The WiFi network is adequate ... [but] the Motorola phones are still a little bit of an unknown to me.” While the integration is sound, the Motorola phones are “not well supported in Australia.”

Even so, Pitcher said he believes Bethsalem Care is “performing better as a result of having a decent IT infrastructure.” There is “more efficiency, and that equals saving money.”

Pitcher said he hopes others will learn from the Bethsalem Care experience.

“My advice to anyone who’s trying to do a WiFi network is make sure you do your homework and make sure you establish a system that’s going to meet your needs,” he said.

“Get the experts in and don’t try to do it on the fly, because that’s what we did and it cost us two years, a lot of confidence and a lot of money.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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