Taking Wi-Fi to Court

By Ed Sutherland

August 09, 2004

When the new Bernalillo County, New Mexico court house was built, they recognized a need for wireless by all visitors and employees, including voice solutions.

The verdict on Wi-Fi is already in at a New Mexico courthouse. The state-of-the-art Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court in Albuquerque plans extensive use of Wi-Fi by juries, judges and lawyers.

While the court already employs such options as video courtroom appearances by jailed defendants, the New Mexico court has turned to Wi-Fi to solve some problems specific to a legal environment.

Chantry Networks and SpectraLink are joining forces to provide "a shining example of what the future will look like for courthouses around the country," according to Paul Roybal, CIO of the State of New Mexico Bernanillo County Metropolitan Court.

The new 10-story $67 million courthouse is the busiest in the state, with 3,000 visitors each day. 16 judges there preside over criminal and civil complaints.

Two BeaconWorks WLANs and 65 BeaconPoint access points from Chantry, along with 36 NetLink Wireless Telephones from SpectraLink, make up the court's Wi-Fi system, which is to be unveiled officially today. The new system is integrated into already-existing Cisco gear.

Since February, the metro court has been testing the wireless system, which is aimed at increasing both productivity and security. Along with the ability for prospective jurors to reduce wasted time thanks to wireless connectivity, court security personnel will employ Voice-over-Wi-Fi phones, while judges and lawyers gain on-the-go Web access.

"Not only have we found a way to strongly mitigate America's frustration with lost productivity associated with the wait to be selected for jury duty, but we've enhanced the building's security and increased the effectiveness of judges, lawyers and visitors inside the building as well," said Roybal.

The court wanted Wi-Fi to address three areas: prospective jurors cooling their heels while waiting to be picked, a solution to the courthouse ban on cell phones, and the increase of online research by judges and lawyers.

The ability for prospective jurors to work from wireless laptops or PDAs via Chantry's BeaconWorks WLAN has met with a "very positive" reaction during the testing phase, says Roybal.

"The first thing they did was take away my cell phone," said Luc Roy, Chantry's Senior Director of Product Management, on one of his initial visits to the New Mexico courthouse.

Because of the cell phone prohibition in the Metro Court, security personnel relied on 900Mhz cordless phones for communications. Those handsets were beset by frequent dropped calls due to interference caused by all the concrete and steel in the building.

"Due to the tight security required by the presence of criminals and highly emotional events inside the building, dropped calls by the security force was an intolerable risk," according to the companies.

To solve the problem, Chantry brought in SpectraLink to provide new phone hardware. The i640 handsets "interface seamlessly with the Cisco Call Manager system already in place," says Ben Guderian, director of marketing at SpectraLink.

Guderian says new courthouses like the one in New Mexico "are ripe for the adoption of VoIP."

While the number of judges and lawyers using the Internet for research is rising, the group lacked a convenient way to conduct online research when away from the office.

The new Wi-Fi network allows a judge on the bench or a lawyer consulting with clients to gain easy access to the Web, according to both Chantry and SpectraLink.

"People there (judges, lawyers, witnesses and potential jurors) are pretty mobile," Roy says. "They had real requirements for wireless."

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