Hospitals have been one of the main users of Wi-Fi networks, so far. Driven by a mobile workforce and an environment where cellular devices are usually forbidden, they have accepted centralised Wi-Fi switches before many other markets. Now a London hospital trust has installed a wireless network which claims to do away with the need for those centralised switches.

Barts and The London NHS Trust has installed Wi-Fi access points from Aterohive that manage themselves in a co-operative network, without a central switch, in the Royal London Hospital.

“We have a high density of access points, so we can voice services and location,” said head of ICT client services Doug Howe. The Trust has installed 77 access points in the London's accident and emergency department and in two newly-refurbished wards handling traum and neurology.

Building Wi-Fi in

The Trust had very little Wi-Fi despite the technology's popularity in the health sector. “We had some Wi-Fi in operating theatres, to allow computers on wheels,” said Howe. But with a major refurbishment underway, the Trust decided to use 21st century networking, he said, and invited tenders to unwire a chunk of The Royal London Hospital.

The trust is involved in two big building projects. Barts has a new site opening in 2010, and the Royal London has a rebuilding going on to finish in 2016. The Wi-Fi wards are a trial run for potential deployment at these sites, said Howe: “These are long wards with small rooms, very like those in the new buildings.”

The £300,000 pilot represents about a twentieth of the whole Trust, he said, and is initially specified to last three months, though this already looks like being extended.

Aerohive's approach contrasts with conventional Wi-Fi wisdom, which says the best way to manage a wireless LAN is a centralised controller. Access points installed throughout the area communicate with each other and create a co-operative wireless network.