Miles of dark (unused) optical fiber have been laid across the U.S. by enterprising telephone, cable, and power companies in the belief that they eventually could sell or lease time and space on them. Together they represent an untapped resource from
Miles of dark (unused) optical fiber have been laid across the U.S. by enterprising telephone, cable, and power companies in the belief that they eventually could sell or lease time and space on them. Together they represent an untapped resource from which secure or redundant high-bandwidth networks might spring. Increasingly, established communications firms and startups are working to make these fibers available for healthcare applications.
Marconi Communications has launched an initiative to make optical networks available for lease to hospitals and healthcare providers looking for more cost-effective broadband capabilities. Marconi plans to implement private fiber-optic cable for regional hospital groups that will allow them to transmit data, images, and voice over the same network.
Marconi is partnering with a major power company that provides access to regional power grids so as to identify existing fiber lines. The two are in discussions with a half-dozen hospitals in major metropolitan areas that may be interested in leasing the fiber and having Marconi implement and manage the networks for them, according to Tom Pacenta, industry manager for healthcare marketing at Marconi. Atlanta and western Pennsylvania are two target locations.
"This is certainly a trend, and a lot of hospitals are looking at doing this," Pacenta said. "Say a hospital is looking at setting up its own data center. We set them up as their own competitive local exchange carrier and Marconi provides the optical switching gear. It makes a lot of sense because it gives them unlimited bandwidth and creates their own private network, which eliminates the federal healthcare security issues (related to the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)."
The approach offers redundancy advantages. Once the ring topology network is set up, there are always two connections. Even if one part of the ring is cut, the connection is not broken.
Similarly, Lockheed Martin has licensed fiber-optic WDM (wavelength division multiplexers) technology from FiberRx in Orlando, FL, a healthcare start-up, to use in hospitals and medical facilities. The FiberRx network uses a single fiber-optic cable to communicate with existing networks and systems throughout a hospital or medical center, facilitating very high bandwidth communication of patient data. The technology enables data from multiple sources to be combined onto a single network, rendering existing medical network architectures consisting of hubs, switches, and routers obsolete.
Another company eyeing the healthcare sector is start-up Yipes Communications in San Francisco, an optical networking firm that is working with a medical group in Palo Alto, CA. Yipes' gigabit-capacity LAN-to-LAN and LAN-to-Internet services are designed to enable the transmission of high-bandwidth applications among Palo Alto Medical Foundation's main campus, the Internet, and satellite clinics throughout the area. The optical IP network is private but allows a direct, high-capacity connection to the Internet. Yipes networks also provide fully scalable bandwidth on demand, from 1 Mbps to 1 Gbps in 1-Mbps increments, using standard Ethernet interfaces for both local- and wide-area network connections.
"The increased bandwidth that Yipes provides will enable us to transmit huge volumes of CT scans to other facilities in seconds," said Phil Hitchings, PAMF's chief information officer.
This translates into significant cost savings. A typical Yipes LAN-to-LAN link that offers 3 Mbps transmission capabilities (the equivalent of two T1 lines) between a clinic and an off-site data center would cost $450/month, versus $500 to $1000/month for the two T1 lines. In addition, traditional phone companies are notorious for taking weeks and even months to install new lines or upgrade existing lines, while Yipes can add bandwidth at a moment's notice.
"The idea of being able to call up and say 'We need 5 megabytes to the Internet now,' and within minutes you've got it is great," said Rob Lawrence, senior systems engineer with PAMF. "Our long-term goal is to use Yipes for a virtual LAN that connects at least five of our nine remote sites and replaces our existing T1 connections."
© 2001 Miller Freeman Inc.
3/28/01, Issue # 1506, page 2.