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Wireless connects public agencies: libraries, police departments and even mobile first responders provided with high-speed access.

Back in his days as a Force Recon Marine, Jim McCormick, the technology director for Caroline County in eastern Maryland, would never have guessed his "adapt, improvise, overcome" training would have such relevance to his civilian job. In a climate of shrinking municipal budgets, however, doing more with less has become a critical survival skill for public officials, especially in rural America. So when McCormick learned about the opportunity to partner with the state for a statewide wireless project, he knew he was being given an opportunity to solve a number of big problems.

Lack of competitively priced or even availability of high-speed access has consequences that impact the whole of the community--from healthcare to education to public safety to even the commercial tax base. Most every organization today requires high-speed Internet access to perform everyday functions and to leverage bandwidth-hungry productivity-enhancing applications, such as telemedicine, distance learning, and photo and fingerprint databases.

The specific driving force behind the statewide wireless initiative has been the Maryland Public Libraries' "Sailor Project." The project initially provided connectivity through leased lines, but monthly charges remained high, and increasing capacity in parts of the network turned out to be impossible or unaffordable.

The Sailor operations staff started exploring wireless technology as an alternative means of expanding both the capacity and reach of the network. Legacy solutions like Wi-Fi proved insufficient because they still required line-of-sight or were not geared for metro-scale coverage. Others were too capacity limited and the state was looking for a solution with a long lifespan. In addition, McCormick wanted to find a way to connect mobile users like police officers and EMS staff so they could "take their LAN with them" into the field.

The Business Information Group (BIG), a regional technology integrator, introduced the Alvarion BreezeACCESS solution, which mixes non-line-of-sight fixed technologies and seamless high-speed mobile access technologies within a single platform. The solution enables many square miles of fixed coverage from individual cells, as well as supporting mobile access even in tree-dense areas. BreezeACCESS also provided for reliable, secure, high-speed mobile coverage for about 1/10th the cost of mesh deployments. At the same time, it enables more than 80 Mbps of net throughput for fixed users within a several-mile-radius cell for under $20,000.

The wireless broadband network connects county and state government agencies throughout the county, replacing leased lines and bringing broadband to locations that previously did not have broadband access. For Allegany County in western Maryland, with about 95 government and non-profit locations, the "T-1 replacement" provides a savings of almost $1 million per year, according to Jeff Blank, county supervisor of networking.

Whereas Allegany County deployed wireless broadband independent of Sailor, Caroline County deployed its wireless network in concert with the Sailor Project and is among the counties that are furthest along with deployment. "In our county, the typical cost for a T-1 line is about $1,200," McCormick says. "The savings are incredible, but realize that we are providing speeds of about 10 times a T-1 line." In addition, Allegany is planning to deploy video cameras around the county using the same wireless infrastructure.

Alvarion's wireless broadband technology is also being used for the county's mobile infrastructure, providing mobile access for public safety vehicles, EMS and mobile city workers. With T-l-like data connectivity to the vehicles, and a vehicle-based notebook computer, public safety officers can perform LAN activities from their vehicles, including database searches, issuance and confirmation of warrant requests, reporting, and even transmitting and receiving of real-time video.

Police Chief Jeff Jackson of Greensboro, who was the first to have the system implemented in his vehicle, says, "I can now type up reports from my vehicle. Recently, an insurance investigator was involved in an accident. By the time that we returned to the station, the report was printed and ready for her to see. Before this technology, it would have taken her 30 days to prepare."

Easton Memorial Hospital also is equipping its ambulances with heart-monitoring equipment and video cameras to provide support to first responders.

For McCormick, interoperability was an issue, since even within Caroline County the databases of the various towns are not linked together. The wireless infrastructure rollout has sparked a large-scale interoperability effort to share databases and provide access throughout each county and between counties.

McCormick's efforts are working in conjunction with the state, which is implementing a state-of-the-art integrated database system for statewide use by public safety agencies. This system will provide access to data applicable to agencies throughout the state, such as DMV information and arrest warrants, and provide Internet-based access. Jackson's police department will be one of the test sites selected by the state to test this new database system, with access from the office and from vehicles.

Allegany County has pursued a different use for the network. Instead of looking at internal government uses, it realized that telecom operators had shown only limited interest in bringing broadband to businesses and residents in this rural county. After researching various business models, it opted for the wholesale model where various service providers share the network with the county for a minimal fee, but act as independent players.

For more information from Alvarion:
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Title Annotation:Wireless
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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