Oregon city builds safety net

MeshNetworks, Inc.

Related Links

By early April, a southwestern Oregon city will be among a handful of municipalities worldwide with an IP-based, peer-to-peer communications network that can function without the supporting infrastructure.

Medford city officials hope the high-speed, interoperable wireless system will eventually extend to rural areas throughout the 2,800-square-mile Jackson County. The more users, the stronger the system, they said.

"So rather than discourage people when they come onto a system because it gets bogged down, you encourage them to come on," said Deputy Police Chief Ron Norris, "like the hospitals, the ambulances, the fire departments, the public works, because the system becomes more robust and functions better with more users."

Since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and then the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, interoperable communication has been a top national priority, although law enforcement officials have been calling for the technology for decades. The need for voice interoperability has also expanded to video and data.

The ad hoc peer-to-peer, or mesh, architecture was developed by MeshNetworks Inc., based in Maitland, Fla., which commercialized the technology developed by the Defense Department for battlefield communications. Some local officials are taking notice. Besides Medford, it's also being deployed in Garland, Texas; Florence, Italy; a city in Florida; and another in Great Britain, which at this time cannot be identified, said Rick Rotondo, the company's vice president of technical marketing. The network includes a fixed infrastructure for installation throughout an area. For instance, wireless routers about the size of a shoe box can be mounted on utility poles, billboards, traffic lights or buildings where there is electricity, or they can be attached to a solar power source.

The devices enable communications among individual devices and intelligence access points beyond the line of sight. Individual devices and access points act as transitions from the wireless network to the wired infrastructure and provide a maximum burst data rate of 6 megabits/sec. The fixed routers balance traffic within the system, bypassing network congestion or node failures so users can communicate with one another seamlessly.

But if that infrastructure becomes inoperable, then the system's users, in effect, become conduits. Whether they have individual mobile devices connected to the system via a wireless modem card or drive around in vehicles with a mounted modem, they act as hopping points within the mesh architecture. "So it acts as a relay network; you are the network," Rotondo said. "The beauty of a mesh system is that you don't try to cover great distances in one hop."

Mesh networking could be one of the most important technologies this decade, said Craig Mathias, a principal with the Farpoint Group, which specializes in mobile computing. However, he's not sure it will solve radio interoperability problems. "There is nothing special about meshes that would make them especially useful in solving this problem other than perhaps their suitability to rapid deployment across large areas," he said.

City and company officials said the technology requires little or no training and will pay for itself over time. Medford is replacing the discontinued Cellular Digital Packet Data network with the mesh system.

The initial deployment, by Viasys Corp., throughout the 24-square-mile city will cost about $700,000, including about $500,000 from a federal homeland security grant. Cost will be a factor for Medford in expanding the system.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group