Municipal Wireless Takes Shape

Why cities are moving to municipal networks

Voice over WLAN is an exotic-sounding solution that is already practical over mesh networks and provides convenience and cost savings to government agencies. When engineered correctly, this latency-sensitive application can provide advanced telephony features usually reserved for full-featured office phones, but with the freedom to roam throughout a building or around a campus.

Another application is fleet management. A hosted asset tracking solution for garbage trucks, buses, public works equipment and so forth can save approximately $4,500 per vehicle per year by increasing asset use, optimizing routes and reducing fuel costs. An edge appliance equipped with GPS , sensors and a Wi-Fi radio acts as a secure client on a municipal wireless mesh network. A network manager appliance tracks all edge appliance units and integrates mapping applications and corporate asset tracking to improve fleet management.

Infrastructure Options

Municipal wireless infrastructure options can include 3G cellular and WLAN, but mesh and WiMAX tend to be the technologies of choice. A key element for governments is selecting a solution and a service provider that can provide the flexibility to deal with evolving standards. Few municipalities will want to reengineer a wireless network every couple of years, but there should be a plan for technology refreshment to keep the system current and take advantage of improving performance.

Mesh network solutions use a peer-to-peer infrastructure to backhaul data wirelessly to a wired network. WLAN coverage of large open areas, both indoor and outdoor, is ideal for situations where LAN network cabling is not in place or is deemed too difficult or costly to deploy. Wireless mesh typically incurs lower capital and operating costs compared to fiber solutions and reduces deployment time by taking advantage of existing utility poles and walls for elevated mounting of wireless base stations.

WiMAX is a newer long-range broadband wireless access system that can deliver large amounts of bandwidth very economically. It will give businesses and consumers uninterrupted access to a rich variety of high-bandwidth applications such as networked gaming, streamed digital music, TV, videoconferencing, VoIP and other real-time services. Fixed WiMAX is typically more appropriate for sparsely populated rural environments, while mesh is more attuned to dense urban environments.

Secure Systems

Security is an area of increasing concern in all facets of society, and wireless networking is no exception. Municipal governments need wireless environments that combine no-compromise security and high performance for operations ranging from routine to mission critical.

Secure solutions for municipal wireless protect both the network and information through authentication and encryption. Device authentication and compliance checking to validate that a device is allowed to connect to the network are key requirements.

Validating user identity is also important. Eavesdropping protection commonly involves encrypting traffic from endpoint to access point, using encryption algorithms such as Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or the Advanced Encryption Standard ( AES ). In addition, a secure system can encrypt information within the wireless mesh traffic using IPSec tunnels.

VPN gateways and industrial-strength firewalls are key components to enable remote access security and protect wired and wireless networks from denial-of-service attacks, viruses, worms and other threats. A threat protection system is a cornerstone of an adaptive defense, protecting networks against incursions by detecting, alerting, blocking and reporting security events on any network.

Getting Started

A range of government grants and creative service providers are available to municipalities starting down the road to broadband wireless. Some municipalities have banked everything with single-product startups, which can limit options as technology and standards evolve. Selection of the right partnerships is a key element to ensuring peak performance, meeting constituent needs and developing a sustainable solution for the long haul.

Success hinges on viable business models that ensure sustainable operation, anchor applications and agencies or businesses, integration services for proper set up, and technology that fits the local geography and economic environment. Municipal wireless should be based on flexibility, network security, communication applications and solid partnerships with service providers.