FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein held his position for only a few hours before naming universal service and spectrum as two of his top priorities in his new position.

Adelstein issued a statement hours after he was finally sworn in as the fifth FCC commissioner that looked to set priorities for his tenure at the agency.

“During my time at the commission, I will work to ensure that Americans have the best possible communications services by enhancing competition, promoting universal access to all communications services and efficiently managing the public spectrum.”

The issue of who will contribute to universal service pools and how much they will contribute is being teed up at the FCC as a key issue in the next few weeks. Wireless carriers' contributions to the fund, capped at 15 percent of long-distance revenue, are earmarked for change. Floated as possibilities are an upward tick in the percentage of their contribution to as much as 25 percent, a change to contributions based on the number of telephone numbers used by the carriers and basing contributions on the number of connections counted.

Adelstein also named Barry Ohlstein as interim legal adviser for spectrum and international issues. Ohlstein is the chief of the policy division of the commission's wireless telecommunications bureau. Ohlstein came to the FCC about two years ago from Winstar Communications.

Feds label Wi-Fi a terrorist tool

Attention, Wi-Fi users: The Department of Homeland Security sees wireless networking technology as a terrorist threat.

That was the message from experts who participated in working groups under federal cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke and shared what they learned at this week's 802.11 Planet conference.

Wi-Fi manufacturers, as well as home and office users, face a clear choice, they said: Secure yourselves or be regulated.

“Homeland Security is putting people in place who will be in a position to say, ‘If you're going to get broken into … we're going to start regulating,’” said Cable and Wireless security architect Shannon Myers in a panel dubbed “Homeland Security vs. Wi-Fi.”

Myers was one of several consultants for President Bush's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, which is initializing its National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace.

Since being named special adviser to the president for cyberspace security last year, Clarke has stressed wireless access points as a national security threat.

“Companies throughout the country have networks that are wide open because of wireless LANs…. Millions of houses are getting connected, which means that more and more are getting vulnerable,” Clarke told attendees at the Black Hat Security Briefings in Las Vegas earlier this year.

“We know that (an attack) could bring down the network of this country very quickly. Once you're on the network, it doesn't matter where you got in,” said Daniel Devasirvatham, who headed the Homeland Security task force for the Wireless Communications Association International trade association.

Devasirvatham said the telecom industry was represented at security planning talks with federal agencies, but the wireless sector itself was not.

“Do you consider yourself part of the telecom industry?” he asked the 802.11 Planet audience. “If you're a Nethead instead of a Bellhead, you probably don't. I think here's a major disconnect here.”

But Myers acknowledged that regulators were frustrated in their search for a quick fix to plug Wi-Fi holes.

“There's just not a lot of technology out there right now that can be used to secure the technology in place,” she said. “They're not at a point where they can say, ‘This will solve the problem,’ and mandate it.”

Rather, the most recent draft of the National Strategy document lists stopgap steps that home and office Wi-Fi users should take to make their networks harder to crack. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Wireless Network Security document contains more detailed guidelines.

Speakers called on corporate Wi-Fi customers to participate in creating security enhancements and best practices, lest regulators do it for them.

“Expert advice needs to be obtained from more than just the industry that makes the equipment,” Devasirvatham said.

Conference attendees were split on the potential of wireless nodes as terrorist access points.

Boingo CEO Sky Dayton suggested turnkey security standards under development would improve the technology's reputation.

“It's possible to secure a wireless network today,” he said. “But it needs to get easier.”

Daimler-Chrysler taps handheld

A recently developed handheld makes plug-in and interrogate of the latest CANbus network simple. This system allows communication between component devices and the ECU and enables reprogramming of the operational criteria of the ECU and offers the opportunity to interrogate and modify/replace current ECU software.

The DI-225 can access the in-car Electronic Control Unit (ECU) via a simple plug-in and can communicate with a wide range of vehicle components, ranging from engine management systems, suspension controls, power windows and lighting. Since all the components run on the same wiring network, the DI-225 becomes the only viable method of diagnosing certain problems and speeds up the engineer's ability to communicate with the ECU “nerve center.”

Diagnostic Instruments Ltd. developed and produced the DI-225 and the team responsible wanted the unit modular. To that end, both hardware and software come in inter-linking modules, based on the Windows CE operating system which interfaces with office PCs. The unit is totally customizable, allowing selection of computing power, memory size and RAM, and a PC card slot broadens the application range with access to GSM, GPS, Internet and flash memory. As for the exterior of the unit, everything from screen size (1/8 - 1/4 VGA) to keyboard layout and unit color can be customized.

Daimler-Chrysler purchased 50 of these handheld units for use as a development tool during road trials for Daimler-Chrysler's new SMART cars.

IBM develops heart monitor

A tiny, portable device worn by people “in distress” could alleviate “at risk” home watches. The device, about the size of a pack of chewing gum, can be strapped around the chest and “listens” to a standard heart rate monitor. When a distress signal is detected, it's sent wirelessly via Bluetooth, a short-range, low-power radio technology that makes communication possible between personal digital assistants, laptops, printers and mobile phones.

The relay device is small, lightweight, and “hands-free,” perfect for runners or bikers who want to continue vigorous exercise but may have had certain heart problems in the past, creating a need to “watch and listen.”

The relay, as yet unnamed, could be worn by an elderly person who might take additional comfort in knowing any significant heart-related episode would be reported. This could offer peace of mind for those in need of assisted living.

IBM noted this wireless technology could be applied to a variety of other applications, among them incorporating it into a running shoe to track exercise data and sharing the collected data with coaches and teammates.

EFJ announces 5100 certification

EFJ Inc. announced that EFJohnson's Project 25 portable radio, the 5100, has been certified for use during wildland fire suppression activities. This certification makes EFJohnson one of only two suppliers of Project 25 portable radio equipment to successfully complete this evaluation process. The field certification process was chartered by the National Wildfire Coordination Group (NWCG) for the National Interagency Incident Communication Division (NIICD) at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, to field test Project 25 radios and recommend those radios that meet the requirements for use by the federal fire and aviation community.

“We are extremely proud to achieve this level of recognition from the federal government, and specifically the Department of the Interior,” said Michael E. Jalbert, EFJ chairman and chief executive officer.

“We believe this is further proof that EFJohnson offers federal users quality, value and choice as they strive to complete their transition to narrowband operation. Once the EFJohnson 5100 was accepted through the DOI contract, we put it through our field testing program where the radio was given to smoke jumpers, fire fighters and our technical operations personnel for evaluation,” commented Stephen Jenkins, Chief of the National Interagency Incident Communications Division.

“We received numerous positive comments from our testers about the 5100's size, weight and ease of use,” Jenkins added. “We view the results of this evaluation as a considerable step in establishing our position as a complete Project 25 supplier to the federal government,” said Jim Ridgell, vice president of federal business at EFJohnson.

Firefighters, police switch to digital

Calling all cars. Calling all cars. Welcome to the digital future. Public-safety radio communications in Philadelphia are about to change for the better, city officials say.

By the end of the month, private reception of police radio calls in Philadelphia will be almost entirely eliminated because of a new $52 million digital radio system. The fire department is expected to fully upgrade from its old analog system next month.

The change means that those in the private sector whose daily routines or lines of work are tethered to doses of city police and fire calls — such as armchair enthusiasts, tow-truck accident chasers, and even the media — will be temporarily left in the dark, unless they have a city-supplied radio or until monitoring equipment available to the public comes on the market.

That should come late next month, according to Scott Carpenter of Uniden America Corp., an electronics company in Fort Worth, Texas. Uniden expects to have a “trunk-tracker” scanner on the market by then that will receive Philadelphia police and fire calls, he said.

The cost will not be cheap — at least $650 — hundreds of dollars more than current scanners that monitor the old UHF (police) and VHF (fire) transmissions.

“It's the most significant improvement in radio communications in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department — and it's going to take a little getting used to,” Deputy Police Commissioner Charles Brennan said of the new system.

One major part of becoming accustomed to what is officially called the new 800-megahertz digital trunked radio system — planned and installed here over several years by the manufacturer, Motorola Inc. — is that when the microphone is pushed to talk, users might encounter some chirping noises and a brief delay in transmitting, which could clip an initial word or two.

Brennan said that increased familiarity with the radio — with speakers realizing they must pause briefly before beginning to talk — and training will overcome that problem.

The switch to digital also means that police cruisers will no longer have two-way radios mounted in vehicles. A number have already been removed, changing a part of policing that began here in the Roaring Twenties, when experimental sets were first installed in vans.

Although patrol cars will still have their mobile computer data-links to headquarters, officers now will rely entirely on digital, battery-operated walkie-talkies on their belts. Those devices have been found to work even from deep inside high-rise Center City buildings.

In the last several months, as fire and police employees became acquainted with the new system, a so-called patch allowed Police Department and Fire Department radios to operate on both the old analog system as well as the new digital frequencies. Not for long.

This patch — using both setups — causes clarity problems on the new system. That will end when the patch is severed, Brennan said.

“When we cut the patch, all the old scanners will be unable to pick up our frequencies,” said Brennan, who heads the department's Scientific and Technical Operations branch.

That's all except J-Band, the citywide police channel used for major incidents. Brennan said he would leave that in operation until June to allow the 23 outside law-enforcement agencies that have it in their cars to switch to new equipment.

It also means that scanner buffs will still be able to hear that channel through the spring.

A number of frequencies, such as those used by the Homicide Division, Narcotics, Internal Affairs and antiterrorist groups, will be encrypted, meaning that no one except those officers involved will be able to receive transmissions.

“Those radios never will be intercepted again,” Brennan said.

The new system will also eliminate the clicking officers occasionally do with their transmit buttons to deliberately interfere with transmissions. It's usually done as a joke to call attention to something funny, but the act, which is hard to trace, is prohibited by directive, and punishment is harsh. The new radios transmit a code that can immediately be traced to the user. Under the new system, if a radio is lost or stolen (one police radio already has been), it can immediately be taken out of service by dispatchers.

“For all intents and purposes, it's a brick, a very expensive brick,” said Brennan of the missing radio.

In another first for the city, police officers and firefighters will be able to communicate with one another over common channels, as well as with those in other critical agencies, such as the Water Department and the Department of Licenses and Inspections. If a major emergency occurs, everyone instantly can get on the same page, Brennan said.

Deputy Fire Commissioner John T. McGrath is also upbeat over the system.

“We tested the system every which way until Monday,” he said. “So far, we are very pleased with the performance and the ability to enhance the safety of our people.”

The busiest police division in the city for police radio is the one that covers South Philadelphia. It's made up of four districts, the First and 17th on the west side of Broad Street, and the Third and Fourth on the east side.

For radio-communications purposes, that division will soon get relief.

“By the new year, absent any technical issues, we're cutting off the patch and splitting South in half,” Brennan said.

The new system has had glitches, but they are being worked out, officials say.

Meanwhile, more than a few police officers in the rank and file worry about the potential delay in transmission. Some street police officers say that, when the chips are down and someone's firing at them, they don't want to have to wait a precious second to call for help.

Racine County Police Use RAD Access

Racine, Wisconsin's Police Department practices a proactive, community-oriented approach that looks for long-term solutions. It has demonstrated this same approach in defining its communications network.

Racine County is implementing a wide area network (WAN) to provide enhanced voice and data communications throughout the county, to support public safety and other local governmental needs.

Specifically, it requires 28 T1 lines for deployment of a new police squad car communications system, and a 100 Mbps full duplex Ethernet connection between police headquarters and the sheriff's office located in the county courthouse. The network configuration protects against any single point of failure on the critical segments.

“Everyone involved in the project has demanded that this be the design criteria because a major part of the project supports communications that protect life and property,” explains Racine County WAN Specialist Kerry Kriegel. “Delays due to system failure are not acceptable.”

Since Racine County did not want to rely on the dark fiber already running between the police and courthouse buildings (“We learned last year how vulnerable the fiber is to a shovel,” says Kriegel), a free space optics laser link with fSONA's SONAbeam 155-S equipment was installed by System Support Solutions (www.SystemSupportSolutions.com), a leader in the deployment of free space optics and radio frequency point-to-point, high bandwidth wireless links. The SONAbeam 155-S connects to the ATM interface of RAD Data Communications' ACE-101 access units over 155 Mbps fiber.

The ACE units were installed by System Support Solutions with the help of RADs value-added reseller, AccuWare Inc.

Each ACE-101 access unit multiplexes the voice and data between the two sites, sending the 100 Mbps traffic via its Fast Ethernet port to an existing Ethernet switch, and the remaining 55 Mbps traffic to RADs Optimux-T3 fiber optic multiplexer for support of the 28 T1 links to the squad cars.

“Racine County has been using RAD equipment for many years and to date, not one unit has failed. So when I needed a system that could provide me with five 9s reliability, I started with RAD,” states Kriegel.

“The dual power supply and failover features of the ACE-101 were major factors in choosing the product. These boxes have been thoroughly tested with simulated failures of each component,” says Kriegel. “I am happy to say that the RAD equipment performed even better than expected. Not one packet was lost during the transition from fiber to laser or from laser to fiber.”

“Agencies that utilize taxpayer money to provide services must always be cognizant of performance for the price,” maintains Kriegel. “There are several multiplexer manufacturers, but none of them could provide the return on investment that we will receive from the combination of RAD and fSONA.”