NYC GUARD Project Boosts Pre-WiMax Promoters

By Ed Sutherland

September 28, 2005

Cranite will be locking down the NYC GUARD project, which could become a template for how cities use wireless broadband.

The announced New York City 802.16 network for first responders is both a major coup for backers of pre-WiMax gear and the latest sign of Wi-Fi’s most promising market: government.

The $3 million GUARD (Geospatially-Aware Urban Approaches for Responding to Disasters) project hopes to become a template for other cities seeking ways to upgrade emergency worker communications using WiMax. A continuation of the Smart Dissemination Networks (“Smart Nets”) project, GUARD uses both the instructional television’s 2.5GHz band and pre-802.16e gear for mobile communications with fire, police and other emergency personnel.

The testing phase should begin in April or May of 2006 and last for six to eight weeks, according to Chad Harrington, vice president of marketing for Cranite Systems. Cranite was handed the job of encrypting voice, video and data between emergency workers using laptops, PDAs and other mobile devices.

The GUARD prototype covers a 35-mile stretch of southwest Manhattan. New York’s PBS Thirteen/WNET, which broadcasts atop the Empire State Building, provides the public TV spectrum. While pre-WiMax ISP TowerStream also operates a base station from the building, the GUARD project uses licensed spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.

The National Technology Alliance, a government program with the goal of using commercial technology for national security and defense work, named Rosettex Technology & Ventures Group as the integrator. Rosettex works with the NTA assessing commercial technology for use by homeland security or the Department of Defense.

ALMOST 802.16e

“The network will use 802.16e (WiMax-Ready) technology to provide high-bandwidth mobile communications,” according to the August announcement.

Minneapolis-based NextNet Wireless will supply the pseudo-802.16e non-line of sight (NLOS) gear for the GUARD project. NextNet, owned by Craig McCaw’s Clearwire, bills its laptop-based subscriber units as “delivering the features of WiMax mobility today.”

On the question of why the GUARD project refers to the 802.16e standard when the technology was only in draft stage at the time of the announcement, the company views the reference as a way to “measure feature requirements and future benefits,” as well as a “useful tool for performance definition, especially when few companies are able to currently offer those features,” Charles Riggle, NextNet's vice president of business development, tells Wi-Fi Planet.

Riggle says the company is not waiting for 802.16e to offer a mobile WiMax product. “NextNet will offer a solution based on the 802.16e specification. Simultaneously, we are working on the third generation of the Expedience NLOS System, which delivers the value proposition of mobile WiMax in advance of the standard," he says.

In April, Riggle told a WiMax Forum meeting in Spain that despite the absence of a ratified standard, NextNet believes its gear is WiMax-ready.

NextNet supplies hardware to ISP Clearwire, which hopes to stitch together instructional television spectrum owned by non-profits and television stations such as NYC’s Channel Thirteen/WNET. McCaw created a similar rag-tag network with Nextel, which formed a national network out of underused spectrum.

“Spectrum availability has long been one of the greatest obstacles to effective emergency communications,” said Bill Baker, president of Thirteen/WNET, in February.

Government Focus

“Government is our primary focus,” says Don Beery, Cranite’s vice president of sales. The U.S. federal budget for improving firs-responder communications gear is $10.9 billion, according to some reported estimates.

In August, Cranite spoke before the Navy Enterprise IT Industry Symposium 2005 in New Orleans. In June, Cranite helped secure WLANs involved in the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, a mock response to various fictional scenarios including terrorist incidents in North America and a four-nation war.

A year ago, Chris Dorst, Cranite’s vice president of corporate marketing, told Wi-Fi Planet that difficulty educating people on the need for wireless security had hastened the company’s refocus on government work.

Beery disputes charges made in July by systems integrator All Points Logistics that a wireless network Cranite helped install at the United States Military Academy at West Point “simply never worked.” Beery chalks up the charges to competition between All Points and iGov. The contract has been renewed for five years, and has expanded to reach all students of the military academy, he says.

Despite reports that government is unfriendly to Wi-Fi, an increasing number of civilian and military agencies are looking to wireless networking, says Beery:

  • The National Security Agency wants a “secure mobile portable electronic device” (SME PED) able to operate over Wi-Fi, GSM and CDMA networks.
  • The U.S. Army plans to provide a 3,000-member military unit with a $14 billion wireless network linking soldiers and machines.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense is considering a billion-dollar wireless integration program, according to Beery.

In a reversal of the usual transfer of civilian technology to military use, companies such as Cranite are seeing benefits from government contracts when negotiating with enterprise customers.

Cranite finds its government contracts open doors to enterprise sales. Enterprises see government work as a seal of approval for the company’s Wireless Wall product. For example, Bank of America says, if it’s good enough for the government, it's good enough for us, according to Beery.

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