Billings Gets Wireless Backbone

By Naomi Graychase

November 18, 2004

The Montana city will use wireless equipment from DragonWave to five areas of the city government, all with substantial data needs.

Billings, Montana is where Routes 90 and 94 intersect just north of the Wyoming border and the Crow Indian reservation—and now it is also where Canadian wireless products meet municipal high-bandwidth needs.

Ottawa, Ontario-based DragonWave has come together with Bozeman, Montana-based TransAria to revolutionize the way the city of Billings gets things done. Billings, which has dubbed itself "The Magic City," has been leasing T1 lines to serve all of its municipal data transmission needs. As of today, though, the city has 100 times that capacity; it no longer leases lines (which saves money in the long term), and it's all been done through the magic of Wi-Fi.

DragonWave, which designs, markets and supports broadband, wireless, high-bandwidth, real-time IP applications for service providers and enterprises, supplied regional data communications provider, TransAria, with its AirPair 100 24 GHz product. TransAria then deployed the network, which connects five city locations, in just a couple of days. The network is a private wireless Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) utilized for both voice and data.

Peter Allen, president and CEO of DragonWave, says "In the municipal market, there's quite a lot of activity that's going on all around the world, but in particular in the U.S. For a company like ours to have a sales force that can go to each and every school district or hospital is impossible. So, we work through value-added re-sellers who operate in local geographies and address the needs of that market vertically. TransAria is our partner in Montana. They do all of the wireless networking planning. The product we sell is a wireless point-to-point product. They did the network planning and looked to make sure line of sight was there between the buildings the city wanted to connect. They installed the equipment."

The network will connect the city of Billings' public utilities, airport operations, City Hall, Billings Operation Center and Met Transit—five areas of city government with substantial data transmission requirements. The network utilizes multiple AirPair 24GHz unlicensed links, which provide 100 Mbps per link of native Ethernet capacity at each site. AirPair supplied both indoor and outdoor deployment options.

DragonWave feels confident that the Billings network will not suffer from interference. "Generally, the equipment we sell is in the range of 18 GHz-26GHz, and in general, there are more licensed bands there, as opposed to unlicensed," says Allen. "In this instance, they've installed a 24 GHz unlicensed band. Because of the nature of the beast, there are not a lot of other services interfering. The wave guide is pretty narrow. You'd have to be pretty close to cause any interference."

With a population of just under 90,000, Billings is home to four colleges and universities, two hospitals, sixteen clinics and several libraries. The wireless network deployed this week will not be serving these institutions and is not intended to become a new public utility or public hotspot. It is simply an upgrade of the outdated T1-based leased-line network the city was using previously.

"The city is not generating a Wi-Fi hotspot," says Allen. "Up to now, they've been very restricted because 1.5 Mbps is very small. I don't exactly know what applications they plan to put on, but a lot of these guys are putting VoIP capability and video on their wireless networks, whereas in the past it was just basic data and voice."

The AirPair network deployed in Billings could support VoIP, Video on Demand, IP-PBX, IP-VPN, Storage Area Networks, and traditional Legacy T1/E1 applications, if the city chose to implement them.

DragonWave, which was formed in 2000, sees itself as forward-thinking. Its network solutions, while not unique technology, are designed and applied in such a way that clients can expect to meet today's demands, as well as meet anticipated future demands.

"If you go back 30 years, our point-to-point wireless technology would have been a military application," says Allen. "Over time, it has now advanced such that it can be produced at a lower cost, for the telecommunications market. We have developed a radio, which is an optimized Ethernet radio, for the future world of IP. People in the past, who developed radios, were optimized for the world of TDM voice. So the difference is important. As the world moves toward managed Ethernet services, people will want to run applications that will require certain characteristics from the link."

DragonWave also prides itself on the affordability of its network solutions. While a specific price tag was not publicly reported, when pressed, Allen stated that the cost to the City of Billings for his company's products was in the "low hundreds of thousands."

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