Oregon city builds P2P network

Medford is deploying an IP-based broadband network for first responders and other government agencies.

City of Medford, Ore.

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The city of Medford, Ore., is deploying an IP-based broadband communications network with interoperability for first responders and other government agencies.

The city plans to go live April 2 with the first phase, in which individual users can form a communications network with or without the infrastructure. Initially it will have 100 users, mostly police, fire and public works employees, but government officials plan to deploy it throughout Jackson County.

"As we identify funding we're going to continue to expand the program until we have truly countywide interoperability," said Ron Norris, the Medford police deputy chief. "The beauty of this system is that it becomes more robust with the more users you have."

MeshNetworks Inc., based in Maitland, Fla., commercialized the mesh technology originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Rick Rotondo, the company's vice president of technical marketing, said the secure network is self-forming, self-healing and able to automatically balance loads if traffic at any one node becomes congested.

The architecture has four components:

* A client modem, either a PC card or vehicle-mounted modem, connects to a mobile data terminal or laptop.

* Wireless routers, the size of a small shoebox, act as the network's permanent hopping points and can be attached to light poles, traffic lights or other structures. They also serve as geolocation reference points to triangulate the position of vehicles or users.

* Intelligence access points bridge the wired and the wireless systems.

* Network management software runs the system.

The peer-to-peer technology lets each user's machine act as a router, allowing the network to cover great distances. "So if you have a power outage or the nodes get destroyed or turned off or one of them breaks, the units themselves act as a relay network," said Rotondo. "You are the network."

This technology will help Medford, located in southern Oregon near the California border in a region that lacks interoperability with surrounding jurisdictions and the outlying rural areas. The city is phasing out its Cellular Digital Packet Data network and has coverage limitations with its General Packet Radio Service system. Although a state interoperability proposal calls for patching technology, Norris said, that will take some time to implement.

Officials said the initial deployment will cost about $700,000, much of it covered by a $500,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Doug Townsend, the city's technology services director, said Medford officials have researched the technology and planned the system for more than a year. The system addresses the need for higher bandwidth to transfer mug shots and other rich data to public safety users. Public workers, building inspectors and other civilian agencies will also benefit from productivity gains, he said.

Townsend estimated a payback in eight months from the city's investment. Norris said law enforcement would save thousands of dollars a month by eliminating cellular phone charges and other fees.

"If it's as successful as I perceive it to be, it could be a true model for a lot of other agencies, and we will be available at the time to assist them if they want to move into it," Norris said.

Viasys Corp. is implementing MeshNetwork's system in the city. City officials said they're actively seeking additional homeland security funding to expand the system throughout the county, which covers more than 2,800 square miles and has a population of 187,000.

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