Police force making network mesh

Medford Police Department

The Medford, Ore., police force has opted to replace its wireless communications network with a new system based on technology originally developed for the U.S. military.

Funded in large part through grants from the Homeland Security Department, the $500,000 system is based on "mesh" networking technology that essentially uses every available client device — computer, personal digital assistant, cell phone, etc. — as a router and repeater, greatly extending the network's flexibility and range.

For Ron Norris, Medford's deputy police chief, one of the system's biggest advantages will be having all the devices on the network able to communicate with each other.

"We don't have interoperability now [among emergency services] in southern Oregon, and communications are particularly sketchy in the outlying areas," he said. "Regional interoperability is the goal of this new system."

The force needed to replace its network because providers such as AT&T and Verizon Communications have decided to drop their current analog networks in favor of higher-bandwidth digital networks over the next year.

Norris said the new mesh network could raise the data transmission rates for the Medford police and other area emergency services from the current estimate of 40 kilobits/sec to more than 1 megabit/sec.

The new system, to be provided by Florida-based MeshNetworks Inc., also will allow for other services, such as voice-over-IP and real-time video that could be sent from the site of an emergency to a central command center, Norris said.

Medford is using an initial $25,000 grant to study how the system will perform and to determine matters such as annual operating costs.

The intention is to install the network first in Medford, with up to 120 primary transmitter nodes scattered around the city, and then to expand it into the more remote regions of Jackson County.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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