NYC to cover city with 2.5 GHz wireless

Wireless broadband network would fulfill recommendations of 9/11 Commission

Editor's note:This story was updated at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 28. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

Northrop Grumman tapped an unusual spectrum partner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, and mobile wireless technology widely used in Asia and Europe but not the United States for a $500 million contract it won to build and operate the New York City broadband public safety wireless network.

Paul Chelson, Northrop Grumman’s program director for wireless, said the company selected the diocese and Sprint Nextel to provide spectrum for the New York Citywide Mobile Wireless Network (CMWN) because both have licenses in the 2.5 GHz band that blankets the city. The diocese held its licenses, originally called Instructional Television Fixed Service and designed for educational broadcasting, for decades. Sprint Nextel has also possessed its licenses for a long time.

The 2.5 GHz spectrum has been neglected because the Federal Communications Commission did not approve the use of two-way data in the band until 2002, said Andrew Kreig, president of the Wireless Communications Association International industry group. Doug Doherty, a communications consultant, said the New York City broadband network “is the first big deal I know of” in the 2.5 GHz band.

Sprint Nextel announced last month that it plans to deploy commercial broadband data services nationwide by 2008 in the 2.5 GHz band using WiMax technology in partnership with Intel and Motorola. However, for the New York public safety network, Northrop Grumman decided to use Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) technology from IPWireless rather than WiMax, Chelson said.

He added that Northrop Grumman chose UMTS instead of WiMax because the city wanted a proven technology and “UMTS is well ahead of WiMax in the mobile environment.”

Because WiMax supports portable but not mobile users, it would not meet the city’s requirements to provide data at speeds of 2 megabits/sec to moving emergency vehicles. A portable user moves to a location and connects a computer to a port, but a mobile user continues to use the computer while moving from one location to another.

Lori Horton, director of strategic wireless initiatives at Northrop Grumman, said in a test earlier this year, the company demonstrated it can provide 2 megabits/sec data speeds to vehicles moving at 120 mph. High-speed tests could not be conducted in lower Manhattan because of traffic control issues. But IPWireless has tested high-speed vehicular mobility in the United States and on a race track and a high-speed train in Europe.

Chelson said city officials are excited about the UMTS upgrade. Northrop Grumman will install roughly 400 base stations to cover the city. Initially, each base station will support 7.5 megabits/sec data speeds. Chelson said that within two to three years, IPWireless should increase the data rate to 35 megabits/sec.

John Hambridge, marketing vice president at IPWireless, said CMWN is the company’s largest public safety deal, but he added that in the commercial area, Japan and the Czech Republic are using its gear used in their countrywide networks.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said CMWN will help fill communications gaps that occurred five years ago when emergency workers responded to terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

“One of the most important lessons learned from the 2001 terrorist attacks was that our emergency responders need better access to information and clearer lines of communication in the field,” Bloomberg said when he announced the deal five years and one day after the attacks.

The city designed the CMWN to fix communications problems described in detail in a McKinsey and Co. report and in the 9/11 Commission Report. Both reports recommended the creation of a network to serve the New York Police and Fire departments. CMWN will serve those departments in addition to the city ambulance service, the Department of Transportation and other nonemergency agencies.

The McKinsey report, in particular, said fire department commanders at the World Trade Center lacked video surveillance capabilities, which CMWN will satisfy.

How NYC plans to put broadband wireless to useNorthrop Grumman will build and operate the New York Citywide Mobile Wireless Network under a five-year, $500 million contract. After five years, the city can buy the network or extend the contract for an additional 10 years. The network capabilities include:

  • 2 megabits/sec data and full-motion video for vehicles moving at speeds as fast as 60 mph.

  • Automatic Vehicle Location Systems for 5,000 vehicles.

  • 1,000 wireless call boxes.

  • Wireless traffic control for signals at as many as 8,000 intersections.

  • Wireless water-meter reading.

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