Ontario hospital’s cure is an Android-powered cordless phone

Spectralink Pivot handset
Spectralink Pivot handset

Mobile apps have seized the world by storm, with millions of Canadians buying smart phones to take advantage of the ability to carry a PC in a pocket.

But smart phones may not be the solution for all business environments. There’s the cost of the device to consider, plus a cellular plan and mobile device management.

And some environments are too rough for consumer-built smart phones. Take hospitals, for example. A Toronto hospital CIO once told me the biggest cause of damage to the cordless phones medical staff carry is caused by the handsets falling into toilets as nurses help patients.

So what does an organization do when it wants to take advantage of mobility but doesn’t want to equip staff with smart phones?

The cure for an Ontario hospital is an Android-based cordless phone.

That was the solution chosen by Cornwall Community Hospital as it transitioned into a 100,000 square foot extension in 2013, more than doubling its size.

In the old facility staff had used a Spectralink 150 cordless phone system for voice communications. But it wasn’t flexible enough for future needs, according to Darin Merriman, the institution’s unified communications specialist. It only supported 16 antennas, he said in an interview.

“So when we added 100,000 sq. ft. I couldn’t expand that system any farther. I had to deploy something that would give us 100 per cent communication throughout the facility.”

In part that was solve with the addition in 2012 of 140 access points from Meru Networks in the patient care areas that can handle the new 802.11ac standard. The rest of the facility has 802.11n APs.

However, the older cordless phones could only do voice. These days medical staff want to be able to send text messages and use email. Others want a device that could handle medical charts from the hospital’s new electronic medical records system.

One choice was using smart phones over a Wi-Fi network. But tests with several models weren’t satisfactory.

A partial solution was moving to Spectralink’s 8440 cordless phone system, good enough for those who only need voice, email and text. For others the hospital is buying Spectralink’s Pivot, an Android-based cordless phone with a 4.3-in. screen, a dust, water and shock-resistant body.

It runs version 4.4 of the operating system, can be integrated with PBXs,  has a push to talk mode, a dedicated panic button and WPA2-Enterprise security. It is also certified for Google Mobile Services. There are three models: the standard 8741 which costs around US$800; the 8753, with a built-in bar code reader; and the slimmer Pivot S, which was announced this week (available in July). Pivot works over 802.11 a/b/g/n networks.

Pivots are slowly being bought by the Cornwall hospital each year. Eventually 300 of the 1,100 staff will have one.

What an Android device does is give staff flexibility, Merriman says. “The one thing I like about the Android device is with the (Google) Play store there’s applications that are good for each department.” For example, he’s put a SIP soft client called Bria from Vancouver’s CounterPath Corp. on his personal smart phone, allowing it to ring when someone calls his hospital phone number or his private number.

Hospitals are a big market for Spectralink, according to Mike Lanciloti, the company’s vice-president of marketing and product management Spectralink. Pivot was developed because some of them were trying smart phones “and they weren’t all having a positive experience. So we saw the need to deliver something that had many of the good things of a consumer smart phone” — a touch screen, sharp display, access to a lot of applications — “without all of the bad things” — such as being rugged enough to withstand being dropped often and hospital disinfectants. As a company with experience n in-building wireless, he added, it could also deliver products with better voice over Wi-Fi quality than an average smart phone.

Roberta Fox, chairman of the Toronto-based Fox Group telecom consultancy, said in an interview that the Pivot could fill a gap between cordless and smart phones.

Cordless still has a role in the enterprises: Fox believes at least one cordless handset maker’s devices has the capability to forward calls from cellphones to its units. Voice calls on cordless devices can have wider, more consistent coverage than Wi-Fi, she added.  Wi-Fi isn’t built to be real time so it has some latency, she said.

“That’s probably the single biggest issue our customers are complaining about as they start to use use Wi-Fi for voice. They complain about latency, and we find out its not the LAN it’s the Wi-Fi.” As a result, she said, a network using Pivot devices may need to have give voice priority over data

One question in her mind is Pivot’s ability to link to mobile device management (MDM) suites used for smart phones. Spectralink’s Lanciloti said the Pivot system support MDMs such as Airwatch and Canada’s SOTI.

She also wondered how often Spectralink will update Pivot’s Android OS, which is currently 4.4. Lanciloti said “eventually” it will be upgraded to 5.0.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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