Networks in the healthcare sector are under enormous pressure. Healthcare information is increasingly digital – and increasingly data-heavy, with high-resolution imagery and video alongside practitioners’ notes. Processes are increasingly paperless. Videoconferencing and other collaboration tools are fostering not only remote collaboration amongst clinicians, but also remote diagnosis and treatment. Power-hungry devices and applications are being deployed through hospitals and other healthcare settings, and multiple different stakeholders need to be able to access the same tools and data, share opinions and agree actions.
As a result, hospitals and other organisations from across the healthcare sector are increasingly finding that traditional copper networks are struggling to deliver the service levels they need. As the technology used in healthcare settings becomes increasingly sophisticated – and as the sector as a whole comes under greater pressure to deliver energy efficiency – this is only going to get worse.
Passive Optical LAN offers an alternative.
What is Passive Optical LAN (POL)?
A POL is a type of fibre-optic network. It replaces traditional structured cabling, incorporating multiple levels of aggregated switches and routers, with an optical line terminal, an optical splitter, and optical network terminals. In turn, this means that organisations deploying a POL can converge multiple different services and communication channels – including voice, data, video, building management services, mobile devices and more – on a single network.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits for the healthcare sector.
POLs deliver cost savings in a number of different ways. First, as a passive architecture, a POL removes all power requirements within the Optical Distribution Network (ODN), so the network is cheaper to run. Second, because the optical network terminal can support multiple devices, a POL requires less cabling to support the network. On both fronts, there are positive knock-on cost implications in terms of labour and additional hardware too.
Clearly, healthcare organisations cannot work with anything less than absolutely reliability. A network failure could truly be a matter of life or death. Whilst traditional copper-based networks typically offer 99.9% of availability each year (which translates to nearly 8.7 hours of downtime), a typical POL achieves 99.999% availability each year, which translates to just five minutes of downtime.
Healthcare organisations are increasingly recognised as tempting targets for cybercriminals. Their mission-critical nature means they are susceptible to ransomware and other blackmail attacks, whilst the sensitive data they process can be very valuable in malicious hands. The sector therefore has to work to strict legal and regulatory frameworks in terms of its network security – and POLs can support this. Fibre networks are not susceptible to Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI), Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) or Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP).
Additionally, POLs offer a secure method for network access. Role-based access can be delivered for users with strict authentication and authorisation protocols, and security policies can be managed from a secure centralised location. This makes it easier to eliminate human errors in network security policy too.
Ultimately, healthcare environments are dedicated to patient care. Passive Optical LANs can make hospitals and other clinical settings more patient-centric, by lending themselves to better architectural design and space saving. Fibre-based LANs can stretch for 12 miles or more, whilst copper LANs only stretch for around 300 feet, and in in turn this means that facilities can avoid the need for overly complicated telecommunications rooms. Less space allocated for technology means more space allocated for patients.
To truly future-proof our healthcare systems – something which has never seemed more important than in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – the sector needs to be equipped with truly next-generation networking technology. Passive Optical LAN could provide the answer.