Calif. city among first to use new high-frequency wireless

A California city is one of the first municipalities in the country to adopt millimeter-wave wireless, a technology that uses high radio frequencies to send data over longer distances than current wireless systems allow.

When Manteca, about 75 miles east of San Francisco, finishes installing the technology this week, it will replace a wireless infrastructure that’s been in use for years, said Tim Dyke, the city’s information technology manager.

To implement the technology, the city chose GigaBeam’s WiFiber links. John Krzywicki, the company’s vice president of marketing, strategy and business development, said the point-to-point technology uses spectrum in the 71 to 76 GHz and 81 to 86 GHz ranges. The Federal Communications Commission licensed the spectrum in 2004 and qualified GigaBeam’s technology earlier this year.

“We’ve been able to get radios that push 1 gigabit of data using high frequencies,” he said. “It pushes a gigabit up to a mile or better at very high degrees of reliability.”

That speed is the equivalent of 1,000 Digital Subscriber Lines, according to GigaBeam.

The technology will be installed in a hub-and-spoke arrangement with one tower feeding eight links, according to company officials.

John Eaton, president of Eaton and Associates and a principal at Xtech, which is installing the technology in Manteca, said the system will allow the city to link high-resolution surveillance cameras among government buildings and other city facilities, such as water pumping stations. Call centers, hospitals and courts can use various voice, video and data applications to transmit private records and communications securely, he added.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission already uses GigaBeam’s technology, and several other city agencies plan to adopt it in the coming year, Eaton said.

Because the technology operates in such a high-frequency spectrum, weather conditions such as rain and fog do not cause interference.

Krzywicki said the technology is also extremely resilient, and if it should go off-line in a disaster, it will be operational again in less than five hours. He said officials plan to equip vans or trucks with the technology as another way of providing wireless links during disasters.

Tom Wetmore, co-founder and senior vice president of sales and marketing at GigaBeam, said millimeter-wave wireless technology is relatively new and only one other company has a product that is approved for use in those high-frequency ranges. GigaBeam is targeting commercial and government customers for whom installing fiber is too difficult and time-consuming and who need substantial bandwidth, he said.

Dyke said he researched several technologies before deciding on GigaBeam’s, which typically costs about $45,000 a link, with discounts as more links are purchased. Manteca officials said they received discounted prices but declined to give an exact figure.

They bought the GigaBeam system through a contract vehicle called the Computer Store, developed by the city and county of San Francisco. Xtech, a joint venture between Eaton’s firm and 21Tech, is one of eight vendors that followed an in-depth, two-year process to win a spot on the contract.

Eaton said the technology is significantly less expensive than older wireless tools, which cost between $200,000 and $300,000 per link. He also said that in the next year or two Manteca might provide high-speed wireless access to the public using the same tower.

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