UC Davis Medical Center deployed the Wi-Fi-based communication devices was intended for multiple uses. The hospital, which contracted with Sprint to design the wireless network, also uses it to distribute electronic medical records and diagnostic images, such as X-rays, to wireless workstations. The hospital is migrating its wired video conferencing abilities for interpretive services to its wireless network as well.

Tinstman said the hospital hopes to connect patient call buttons to the Vocera badges. And as an additional notification method, the hospital may connect alarms from bedside devices, such as infusion pumps, to nurses' badges as well, though he said that may be more difficult because of FDA regulation.

"We're going to try to make [the badges] the connection to most things a nurse needs to know that are digital," he said.

The hospital will eventually distribute just short of 1,000 badges, and hundreds are already in use. In the future, he said the hospital also hopes to take advantage of new cell phones that switch to Wi-Fi-based VoIP as needed.

Tinstman said the medical center is currently conducting a study of its communications costs, but he expects the badges will pay off.

"Our initial analysis says that if we go to Vocera for people within the hospital and cell phones that operate on 802.11 -- so they're safe -- but then switch to standard cell phone for those people whose responsibility goes outside the hospital, that we will get rid of enough pagers and wired telephones to pay the cost."

Fitting NBPS' Needs

Like the UC Davis Medical Center, New Brunswick Public Schools deployed its wireless VoIP phones on a network intended for many uses. In summer 2002, the NBPS handed out approximately 200 wireless VoIP phones to custodians, security guards, maintenance staff and administrators to use while moving about the district's schools.

The NBPS had already created a districtwide VoIP system. Brian Auker, the district's technology director, said the wireless network was implemented for several reasons: to provide Internet access while avoiding costs of wiring individual classrooms in schools where future construction was planned or in schools soon to be torn down; to allow staff to wheel out laptop carts so students and faculty can connect to the Internet anywhere in the school; and to allow for Wi-Fi compatible phones.

Many VoIP over Wi-Fi deployments occur in localized environments where enterprises can take advantage of the cost-savings, said Steve Childs, product manager for Cisco.

"We're seeing most of the deployments in hospital or warehouse environments, where you've got people that require mobility and connectivity," Childs said. "This allows them to use their existing wireless infrastructure to reduce costs."

With the network already in place, the district only paid the cost of the phones -- approximately $500 per phone -- Auker said, and though $500 per phone may sound steep, the phones are worth it.

"Once the infrastructure's in place, there are no more recurring costs," he said. "It's much more cost-effective than cell phones, where you've got to keep paying monthly fees, and you have people watching their minutes so they don't go over, and then they get extra charges and things like that."

The district uses Cisco's 7920 wireless IP phones. Though it started out with a different vendor, Auker said the district switched to Cisco's model, which proved more reliable.

Auker said the wireless VoIP phones can provide benefits for security staff that the previous walkie-talkies could not. Prior to using wireless VoIP phones, he said, a security guard on the playground witnessed a passerby on the street in front of the playground who tripped and broke his nose. When the security guard called the school office for help, no one was on the other end.

Emily Montandon  |  Staff Writer/Copy Editor