Back when I lived in Florida the city of St.Cloud put in free city wide wifi. And it was so sweet you could get broadband wifi while going around town. Worked fairly well when you were traveling even. But then I moved to Kentucky. Now when I got up here the only source for wifi away from home was Starbucks McDonalds and a few other small places. Then in spring of this year they launched a new service. There is free wifi service in the 35square mile city limits. This network is sweet. 1 bad part is you only get 90 minutes a day on it. But the speeds are decent and the coverage is almost flawless.
The main function of the network is for the fire police and city workers. But they allow guest access as well.
Outfitted with mobile computers in their cars, police officers will have constant access to information such as outstanding arrest warrants, police records, and license plate information. In lieu of returning to the office to fill out paperwork, they can file reports from their cars, via the wireless network.
fire fighters will have access to graphical information such as building maps, traffic information, and driving routes. The network will help them to determine which trucks are closest to a fire.
While Bowling Green initially planned the wireless network to aid first responders, city officials also want to use the city-wide Wi-Fi for other municipal applications. For example, Housing and Community Development workers will file building inspection information from the field, and completed inspections will be transferred automatically to a main database. They’ll also receive inspection requests from the field.
Now this is no small project. First off they had to get equipment that could work outdoors in power outages give good reception and support multiple networks. That is where the hardware comes in.
Bowling Green’s network is an outdoor wireless mesh solution, comprising outdoor Wi-Fi access points (APs) and centralized network controllers from Cisco Systems. The
Cisco Aironet 1520 Series Lightweight Outdoor Mesh Access Points are equipped with radios that support the 802.11a/b/g wireless LAN standard, which offers data transmissions of up to 54 megabits per second; They provide more than enough bandwidth for data communications and video feeds, according to Steve Milam, manager of network operations for Bowling Green. When the multi-phase project is completed in the spring, the network will include some 800 outdoor wireless access points, spread across 35 square miles. The mobile computers and cameras that connect to the network also support 802.11g.
Standardizing on a single wireless technology ensures that all the public safety departments can communicate with each other. This is extremely important. Incompatibility of radio systems is a common problem among rescue workers. In fact, it is the problem that led to the deaths of more than 100 New York firefighters during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; they failed to receive vital instructions from dispatchers because of failed radio transmissions.
In a wireless mesh, the network dynamically routes packets of information from access point to access point. A few APs have to be connected directly to the wired network, but the rest share a connection with one another over the air. Meshes are ideal for outdoor networks where a fiber connection is not always available. In Bowling Green, the majority of the access points will be attached to the city’s electrical poles, with the blessing of the local utility company.
Cisco’s Aironet 1520 Series wireless APs offer both a fiber connector and the option of running on battery power, which is crucial if there’s an electrical outage at any time. They’re also surprisingly hearty, which is important in cases of bad weather (Kentucky is prone to tornadoes) or bad drivers. While the network is still in its pilot phase, in a small section of the city, the access points have already proven their toughness, according to Milam.
“We had a drunk guy drive into one of the poles recently; the impact broke the pole in two, and knocked an access point onto the ground,” says Milam. “The AP fell 32 feet, and it kept working, running on battery. It had a couple of scratches on it, but it worked just fine.”
The access points also support Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, which allows the transmission of electricity (along with data) over an Ethernet cable. To that end, network administrators can power the cameras on the network simply by plugging them into the PoE ports on the access points.
The wireless controller lets network administrators centrally manage all the APs on the network, troubleshooting potential problems and delivering software updates remotely. Mitigating the need for manual fixes is a boon for any network administrator, but it is especially important in an outdoor mesh network – where most of the access points sit 30 feet off the ground and out of easy reach.
The network also sports sophisticated security software that keeps hackers from gaining access to sensitive information.
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[Read more: Computer World]