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In one fateful week at Warrnambool, the best place to be was hospital.

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In one fateful week at Warrnambool, the best place to be was hospital.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In November 2012, a year ago today, tens of thousands of people in the Warrnambool district had their phones and Internet cut off. ATMs and EFTPOS were disabled for days, if not weeks and many businesses were accepting paper IOUs as customers did not have access to their money. The culprit was a fire at Telstra’s exchange, proving just how dependent we are on telecoms infrastructure in our daily lives.

For Warrnambool Base Hospital, however, it was business as usual, because it belongs to the South West Alliance of Rural Health (SWARH), relying on Vertel’s microwave-to-fibre broadband service to provide unified communications across its regional hospitals and clinics. Not only did the hospital maintain normal service, it even had capacity to provide communications for less fortunate institutions like Deakin University and Ambulance Victoria that relied on the near-monopoly Telstra service. The flexibility of Vertel’s CE 2.0 compliant service means you only pay for bandwidth you need, and can order extra at short notice to meet special needs or emergencies.

SWARH began in 1997 as part of a government initiative to aggregate hospital services and ICT costs. At the heart of its strategy was a WAN to standardise and centralise distribution of services – including replacing their PABXs with the first IP-based healthcare telephone system in the world. Its low-cost calls and free calls between hospitals resulted in 30-40% savings.

However, their initial microwave-access WAN used legacy TDM technology and became increasingly hard to manage and share, so in 2012 SWARH decided to modernise. Their priorities were:

  • A totally redundant solution, reliable for heavy data usage
  • Smooth upgrade with no major downtime on this life-critical network.
  • Fully managed solution adhering to strict SLAs and QoS standards
  • The consolidation of voice, video and data services

Vertel’s solution met every need, and a close working partnership began. Vertel designed a ‘staged’ upgrade – first the network was upgraded to new electronics, then the transport network was migrated from circuit to packet-based architecture – to ensure zero downtime. This was a key requirement as SWARH provides life and mission critical services.

Where the old system was limited to speeds of 4 or 8Mbps, Vertel’s fibre core to microwave access delivers 20Mbps, 50Mbps and 100Mbps to small, medium and large hospitals. Being MEF CE 2.0 compliant, the network maintains QoS between all sites and the two data centres to ensure faithful delivery of voice, video and data at all times without contention between services. Should there be a failure on any network path, 50msec switching with automated failover ensures 100% availability – a world first in CE services using wireless access.

Since rollout, SWARH has seen many benefits. Moving to a centrally managed processing centre for clinical applications means overall delivery costs have dropped as much as 50%. New technologies enabled include IPTV for CCTV monitoring and surveillance, VoIP, RFID scanning to track patients, staff and assets, IP messaging to smartphones instead of pagers and virtualisation of 4,000 devices. Video sessions have increased by 60% and the alliance estimates at least $500,000 in savings every year.

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