Should Wireless Internet be a Public Service?

A wireless network in Kenosha County, Wis., lets everyone from county hospital workers to the police improve service delivery to local residents.

Wireless improves service to citizens in Kenosha County, Wis.

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Martin Lacock, director of IT in Kenosha County, Wis., says deploying wireless networks in many of the county's departments delivers something far more valuable than standard cost-based ROI.

For Lacock, wireless networks offer better service to citizens.

"It's all about serving the public. Wireless networks will provide better care for residents and better public safety," he says. "And when we get to the point where we can provide broadband access for the entire Kenosha County area, that will serve citizens in other ways."

For Kenosha County, the first stop was at its Brookside resident care facility, where it installed 23 Cisco System Aironet 1130AG access points to create a Wi-Fi network. Each hallway has a cart with a wireless notebook connected to an access point, which lets care providers use the county's clinical-care application to access the latest information on each resident.

Law enforcement also is using wireless in Kenosha County. Now that the county has installed wireless access points in its public safety building, sheriff's deputies returning from shifts in their patrol cars can upload information stored for incident review and court proceedings from cameras in their vehicles.

Martin Lacock of Kenosha County, Wis., says wireless will offer better care and improved public safety to local residents.

Photo Credit: James Schnepf

"This is just the beginning," Lacock says. "We're also looking at what we can do for people who may be in other county buildings and need wireless access. As long as we can protect our confidential county data from public access -- something we are currently doing by installing Cisco IronPort proxy servers -- we'll eventually get there."

Why Go Wireless?

States, cities and counties expand their wireless capabilities for many reasons. Some, like Kenosha County, start pretty much from scratch, while others upgrade aging networks that aren't scalable or cost-effective enough to keep running. And some governments just need to upgrade to the latest network standards.

A state or municipality might have a network that's working well but has trouble supporting increasingly popular IP-based applications, explains Peter Jarich, a research director at Current Analysis. 

"Today, it's okay that some applications require mobile broadband and others don't. Going forward, that's not the expectation," Jarich says.

The city of Alexandria, La., has set a goal of full connectivity for all government buildings. The city has had a few false starts, but finally standardized on an Enterasys infrastructure that eventually will offer Wi-Fi connectivity to users in 14 city buildings and its law enforcement division.

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Source: Frost & Sullivan, survey of 300 enterprise mobile and wireless decision-makers

The backbone of the infrastructure will be a wireless mesh network based on Enterasys HiPath Wireless. In the case of the city of Alexandria, the solution includes Siemens 2620 access points and Enterasys wireless controllers.

"Our plans are ambitious, so we needed a wireless infrastructure that is very scalable and reliable, and that will grow with us as technology changes," says Blake Rachal, the city's assistant director of information systems.  

In addition to scalability and reliability, security is paramount, and Rachal says he's found it with the Enterasys wireless infrastructure.

"All you do is set the parameters," he explains. "I can walk out the back door of the office here and won't be able to get a wireless signal."

Rachal expects it to take three years to roll out the wireless infrastructure to all 14 city buildings and law enforcement. After that, he hopes to extend the infrastructure to Alexandria residents.

Choices, Choices

Implementing a wireless network is more than a matter of installing a few access points. Long before that, it's important to determine which type of wireless network suits your needs. Here's a rundown of the main wireless network types commonly used by state and local government.

LTE: The public safety community has indicated that it will rely on Long Term Evolution, or LTE, mainly because it has fewer interference and security issues than other options, with broader coverage and somewhat faster speeds. However, it's the most expensive of the three alternatives.

WiMax: WiMax has been commercially available for a few years, so there are more compatible devices available for it and it's less expensive than LTE. Like LTE, it uses licensed spectrum, with similar coverage.

Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi networks can be a good choice for many municipal uses, such as surveillance and meter reading. It's proven, available and cost-effective. What's more, there are many compatible devices. On the other hand, Wi-Fi is not the best choice for applications that may have security and interference issues.

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