Alvarion and IBM Have Public Safety Partnership

By Jeff Goldman

May 15, 2006

Starting with select communities in the U.S., this WiMax solution could soon become global.

Alvarion and IBM last week announced an agreement to provide wireless solutions for cities and their public safety agencies. Working together, the two companies intend to offer a new approach to delivering wireless networks that support data, voice and video for both fixed and mobile applications – mobile, in this case, generally meaning inside police cars and other vehicles.

According to Carlton O’Neal, Alvarion’s Vice President of Marketing, it’s a pressing need for most cities. “Any given municipality at this point wants to learn how to do broadband – and any public safety agency, the two-way radio technology that they have is 75 years old – so between the two, everybody’s talking about broadband today,” he says. “And the way to do broadband quickly and have good coverage is, of course, with wireless.”

In fact, O’Neal says he’s found it a little frustrating to watch municipal Wi-Fi get so much attention in the media, when Alvarion already has dozens of cities lit with its proprietary pre-WiMax solution.

“Of course, with Wi-Fi, you can just open your laptop and it works,” he says. “And with our network, the users are known, and the CPEs are fixed – it’s definitely a network where both ends are proprietary and are managed.”

According to Patrick Leary, Alvarion’s Assistant Vice President of Marketing, the first deployment that IBM and Alvarion have completed together is in Fresno, California, where the companies are providing wireless for the city’s fleet of 250 police cars. The deployment went live in March, Leary says, and is about to head into a second phase, adding access for motorcycles and possibly for a police helicopter.

The system operates at 900 MHz, which Leary says provides some key advantages over Wi-Fi or cellular solutions. “You get way better than twice the range of, say, muni Wi-Fi,” he says. “In a place like Fresno, you’re covering a couple of square miles with each individual node – as opposed to 30-plus nodes in a mesh environment.”

In Fresno’s case IBM is using its WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager technology to create a seamless connection between Alvarion’s high speed network and the city’s legacy 800 MHz network, which runs at 19.2 Kbps – resulting in three available layers of wireless.

“You have the legacy stuff when they’re outside of the coverage zone which has been created, and then you have the high speed mobile broadband cells – and then when they leave their cars, they have a PDA that connects to the Wi-Fi pico-cell that’s being created by the car,” Leary says.

Applications deployed over the network can include anything from voice over IP to accessing a database to view mug shots – or, in Fresno’s case, viewing and controlling full-motion video. “They’ve got fixed video in many locations in the city, and any officer can access that video and pan and zoom the camera to different places remotely from their car,” he says.

In most cities that deploy this kind of solution for public safety, Leary says, other agencies soon become interested. “Whenever these kinds of networks get implemented, they begin to be used by other groups, because what happens is you achieve such a huge productivity gain – anywhere, consistently, between two and three hours of additional productivity per officer that’s on the system,” he says.

The new IBM/Alvarion alliance, Leary says, is moving forward quickly. Alvarion will be providing the infrastructure for IBM’s network in Miami Beach, Florida, and the two companies have a letter of intent from Hartford, Connecticut. “And there are others that I can’t mention – there’s somewhere in the area of 25 existing projects that are in the pipeline,” he says.

Leary expects the two companies will soon reach beyond the U.S. “This is a global deal: it’s not just North America,” he says. “Today, that’s where the focus is, because that’s where the low-hanging fruit is – but we’re already working on the relationship on the global side.”

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