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Cellular signal strengthened by multi-carrier approach

Cellular signals got a boost at a Florida healthcare organization after it deployed an internal multi-carrier system.

Cellular phone service has become an integral part of the healthcare industry, with doctors, nurses and other staff requiring constant communication, whether for emergencies or routine matters.

But Orlando Regional Healthcare System (ORH), a Florida organization with several hospitals that service approximately 1.6 million residents, was struggling to get a cellular signal in some areas.

ORH uses BlackBerry 7290 and 8500 models along with standard cell phones for almost 1,500 of its employees. Cell phone coverage is provided by Sprint Nextel and AT&T (formerly Cingular), which both have service agreements with ORH.

In the past, outdoor cellular signals from nearby towers did the trick. But over the past two or three years, "coverage was less than acceptable," said Ron Carroll, ORH's telecommunications manager.

"We noticed that the first floor of Orlando Regional Medical Center had inconsistent cellular coverage, and the administrative employees on that floor complained about it," Carroll said. "We asked our carriers for suggestions about the problem, and eventually [AT&T] Cingular provided a rooftop antenna with a two-antenna indoor system from LGC to eliminate the problem."

Using an indoor cellular system provided consistent coverage through the troubled areas with an LGC InterReach Unison system, Carroll said. He took that one step further and worked with LGC Wireless to solve another signal problem ORH was dealing with at the new Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies and Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

During construction of the 11-story Winnie Palmer hospital in 2005 and 2006, ORH didn't make special provisions for indoor cellular coverage. That created problems, because the structure's exterior featured energy-efficient reflective glass that made it difficult for cellular signals to penetrate.

"Due to the new building and the reflective glass outside, the signal could not get through," Carroll said. "You'd have to stand within 15 feet of a side wall to have a signal."

Carroll said he discussed the issues with Sprint Nextel and AT&T.

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"Each carrier was willing to install a system and provide coverage for its own frequencies," he said, "but when we said we wanted coverage for both carriers, the deployment became more expensive and complicated."

To avoid lengthy carrier negotiations, added expense and a complex system, Carroll turned to LGC Wireless, and his team decided to purchase an indoor InterReach Fusion system directly from LGC to support both carrier frequencies with a single system. According to LGC's Web site, InterReach Fusion is a multi-carrier indoor cellular coverage system that supports multiple frequencies with one set of gear, rather than requiring separate cabling, hubs and antennas for each carrier frequency.

LGC installed two of its main hubs in the hospital's telecom center and put six expansion hubs on various floors. These systems were linked to rooftop antennas from Sprint Nextel and AT&T, which captured signals from nearby outdoor cell towers and relayed them into the building. ORH's cabling contractors deployed fiber optic cabling that connected the main hub to the expansion hubs and then installed CATV cabling that connected each expansion hub to remote antennas.

Also, the Fusion system in the Winnie Palmer and Arnold Palmer hospitals was linked to the original LGC InterReach Unison system so that both systems could be managed as one.

Hospital staff and visitors who have AT&T and Sprint Nextel service can use the in-building network, according to Carroll.

"We could see the change in people as soon as they turned on the AT&T system," he said. "Immediately, they had the confidence to use their devices for voice, email and calendaring. We had some very happy users."

Carroll added that most doctors like using Sprint Nextel's push-to-talk feature, which keeps them connected and able to contact one another in seconds if necessary.

Since it owns the infrastructure, ORH can add new carriers or switch carriers if needed and will be able to avoid future negotiations for an in-building system, Carroll said.

ORH has been using the LGC system for less than a year, but its benefits were noticed almost instantly, he said, and the majority of dead spots within the hospitals were eradicated.

"Once we turned the system on," Carroll said, "we'd get comments like, 'Wow, I can make and answer calls from anywhere.'"

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