Voice and data come together for Digirad

Bringing together a voice and data network using IP technology from Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya Inc. made it possible for Digirad Corp. to introduce new mobile digital-imaging equipment for cardiologists, Christopher Roth, Digirad’s director of IT, told attendees at Computerworld’s Premier 100 conference in Palm Desert, Calif. yesterday.

According to Roth, Digirad needed to do two things: The San Diego-based maker of medical imaging products wanted to introduce a new line of solid-state gamma cameras that could be used by doctors in their offices, and it needed a network to carry data from the equipment. The company also wanted to incorporate a business unit at a separate San Diego location into the network.

Those two goals presented Digirad with specific requirements for a unified voice and data system. The phone system had to be consolidated so that just one voice-mail system would be used, and it had to serve as a data network to support employees and applications needed for the national rollout of the cameras.

Digirad had other requirements for the network. The company wanted to be able to service the system itself. The network had to be able to add call center applications as new cameras went into service in 11 states. And it needed cellular phone access so calls could ring through to company representatives, regardless of their physical location.

“We needed more than a phone system,” said Roth. “The next nearest competitor came in at the same price, but didn’t have the data network included. We would have had to build that out.”

So Digirad turned to Avaya’s Enterprise Class IP Solutions (ECLIPS) package, which Roth said cost US$290,000 and now allows him to provision telephones and manage switches and routers from his home if necessary.

Currently, Digirad has 135 Internet Protocol phones in operation and is able to handle as many as 1,000. It has added a T1 line for voice over IP traffic and uses a voice-mail and message manager – all from Avaya. The company also installed two IP phones in regional offices in Tampa, Fla., and Allentown, Pa. that draw a dial tone from the system in San Diego. In addition, Digirad has outfitted another site in San Diego with a T1 line and an IP network for the entire building.

“We don’t even have fax machines,” said Roth. “The faxes go right to the individual PCs.”

Among the benefits of such a system, he said, are a reduction in complaints about the company’s voice-mail system and integration of a customer relationship management system. “Our competition is [General Electric Co.’s] medical device division and Siemens AG,” said Roth. “We need anything that can give us a step on our competition.”

Despite what has been so far a successful implementation, Roth said, customers enticed by the potential for voice over IP networks had better do their homework before implementing such systems. In addition to calculating how much bandwidth applications will use and the effect on the network of adding new telephones, would-be voice over IP users must understand true nature of a combined data and voice network, he said.

“You have to know how … voice over IP [affects] the bandwidth of the network,” he said. “If you have 15 or 20 people streaming video over the network, bandwidth will be affected.”