By Jonathan Gould, Co-Founder and CTO, K4Connect. As senior living operators work through the challenges of deploying campus wide WiFi to residents, while also providing connectivity for their enterprise applications, an important question should come up – do you design an enterprise network like an IT department, or do you view your campus the way a carrier would? Many IT professionals are unaware of the carrier-grade equipment that is available to them, many times at lower costs than traditional WiFi technology. Let’s look at a technology that most of us have heard of, but might not have known was available outside of your local phone company, DSL.
DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, comes in a few flavors – the two most significant for this application being ADSL and VDSL. All DSL technology works by sending data over standard phone wire above the band that is used for voice. Think of it like a dog whistle, sending information over the phone line, but at a pitch that you cannot hear. The signal is sent up to 2 miles from a piece of equipment called a DSLAM, which is typically installed in a cabinet on the street corner near your neighborhood. The DSLAM injects the ‘invisible’ signal onto the phone line, which will be filtered out later when it reaches the modem in the home, separating it back into phone and Internet. ADSL, or Asynchronous DSL, offers a faster download speed than upload speed, typically operating at speeds around 24mb x 3mb. VDSL offers speeds upwards of 100mb to allow for video to be sent along with phone and internet, enabling ‘triple play’ offerings.
So, what does this have to do with senior living operators? It’s quite simple – you can be the phone company, providing reliable carrier-grade internet access to your residents, without the infrastructure investments associated with campus-wide WiFi. Just like the cabinet on the street corner of your neighborhood, low cost DSLAM units can be installed in the main telephone closet of your building, feeding fast, reliable internet to an inexpensive modem in each apartment. This topology provides a number of advantages:
- Superior coverage. Due to firewalls and concrete construction, senior living facilities can be tough environments to properly cover with WiFi. Instead of access points dotted down the hallway that really don’t reach into the resident’s home, each apartment receives their own dedicated WiFi signal from their own DSL modem. This provides for a much wider coverage and a better resident experience. However, with most modems supporting up to four wireless network names, a common secure network can be deployed to every modem, giving consistent network coverage for med carts and staff devices. Private WiFi for the resident, common WiFi for the staff.
- Infrastructure investment. While WiFi systems require at least a minimal hardwired network between access points, DSL can take advantage of plain old telephone wire found in most facilities. This means retrofitting Internet access into an older facility can be as simple as patching a piece of equipment into the lines in the telephone room, and plugging in modems in each apartment. No new cable to pull.
- Deployment. Designed to be remotely configured by the phone company, DSL modems all use a protocol that allows them to ‘ask’ a server how they should be configured (TR-101). This allows the operator to mass configure all the modems in one system and they automatically download their configuration on power up. This remote management capability gives maximum flexibility to how the operator deploys equipment.
- Cost. At about $50 – $60 for each modem, and about $60 – $80 per port for the DSLAM, DSL networks can be built quite inexpensively. With enterprise access points costing up to $600 each, WiFi controllers costing thousands, and hardwired networks being required between each component, DSL quickly becomes an attractive option to small and large operators alike.
- Scalability. No matter the size of the facility, DSLAMS will scale. Small 12 port units can serve a group of cottages, while entire telco shelves can serve thousands of apartments in a widespread complex. Whatever the scale of the project, there are plenty of options available.
There is little doubt that communities have a short window of time to solve their campus WiFi challenges or run the risk of finding themselves unable to attract the next generation of residents. When considering your options on how to bring your property into the WiFi age, start thinking like the phone company. Proven carrier technology is widely available to you that can make your life easier, lower your investment cost, and deliver a more consistent experience to your residents.