New York plans huge wireless network

New York City plans to build a public safety wireless network of unprecedented scale and scope, including the capacity to provide...

New York City plans to build a public safety wireless network of unprecedented scale and scope, including the capacity to provide tens of thousands of mobile users with the ability to send and receive data while travelling at speeds of up to 70mph.

Bids from suppliers are due next month, and Gino Menchini, commissioner of the city's Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, said he expected to award contracts for three-month pilot projects to several bidders by the end of the year. The final contract is expected to cover five years, with options for two five-year renewals. 

Menchini described the plan as  "the most challenging and most comprehensive" wireless project he is aware of .

"No one has ever attempted this before on such a scale," said Roger Skidmore, vice-president and chief product officer at software supplier Wireless Valley Communications. 

In fact, some suppliers have asked whether New York would scale back some of its requirements, such as a mandate to support 2Mbps data rates and streaming video from thousands of users simultaneously. But city officials rejected the requests in written responses. The plan is "demanding and aggressive", Menchini said, but he believed that its requirements can be met. 

Mike Doble, a consultant at the Public Safety Communications Resource Center in California, estimated that it would cost about $500m (£273m) to develop the network architecture and install the wireless network. An executive from a supplier that is involved in the bidding said the price tag could reach $1bn. 

Menchini said the network would provide mobile users from the New York police and fire departments and the emergency medical service with broadband access to information such as mug-shot and fingerprint databases or building floor plans.

Plans call for the wireless network to support up to 5,000 end users initially and then be expanded. Menchini said he wants installation to start "as soon as possible".

EDS, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, iXP, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon all sent representatives to a bidders conference and are viewed as potential candidates but none would comment. 

Consultants and suppliers said the only way New York can meet its aggressive throughput and coverage goals is to use a mesh network architecture. Traditional Wi-Fi hot spots require a wired backhaul for each wireless access point. In comparison, access points in mesh networks communicate with one another in a
so-called multihop sequence, allowing wired backhauls to be limited to the edge of a network or subnetwork. 

Skidmore said that, based on his reading of the proposal, a mesh network design "just jumps out at you" as a logical approach to the project. 

Doble agreed, saying that any other network design would be too expensive. 

Mesh networks are also well suited for solving potential wireless coverage problems in Manhattan's urban canyons, said Rick Rotondo, vice-president of technical marketing at MeshNetworks. "You just deploy a lot of low-cost nodes," he said, noting that they could be installed on light poles. 

Bert Williams, vice-president of marketing at Tropos Networks, said his company could cover all of Manhattan with 600 Wi-Fi access points operating in the 2.4Ghz band in a mesh configuration. 

Williams added that it would take more access points if the new 4.9Ghz public-safety band was used. 

Lucent Technologies is taking a different tack by proposing a network based on CDMA Evolution-Data Only (EV-DO) technology, which is used in mobile phone systems and has a peak data rate of 2.4Mbps. 

Karen Donahue, Lucent's director of government relations and strategy, said she sees New York using EV-DO over a private network in the 1900Mhz cellular band. 

Tropos, MeshNetworks and Lucent all said they have teamed up with systems integrators that are preparing bids, but declined to identify their partners.

Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld

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