Wireless LAN solutions provider Aruba Networks, whose big customers are universities and corporations, said it will make an aggressive push into the public-safety market now that it is armed with the right products. Specifically, the vendor introduced a new virtual branch network (VBN) solution that connects remote users with enterprise applications and resources to simplify the management of branch offices.

What does that have to do with public safety? Mike Tennefoss, head of strategic marketing with Aruba, said the company's new VBN solution includes new wired and wireless remote access points that incorporate a 3G cellular connection, allowing public-safety agencies to use the VBN solution for on-the-fly connectivity during emergency incidents and backhaul the traffic on the 3G connection.

The VBN solution includes software for Aruba controllers, three new families of RAPs, and branch office controllers. Since all of the complex tasks are centrally managed and automatically disseminated, RAP and BOC set-up is quick, allowing a non-technical person to provision a "branch office" in minutes. A RAP literally can be mailed to a remote user, connected to power and the wide area, i.e., 3G, network, and be fully commissioned following a single data entry.

"That gives a rapid deployment for first responders," Tennefoss said. "You could drop-ship it and set up a mesh network with an additional access point, communicating via mesh back to the [BOC], which in turn goes through the 3G network to communicate back to the data center."

In particular, Aruba's BOC family of products includes a broad range of WAN connectivity, gigabit Ethernet and USB options, as well as an integrated 802.11n (Wi-Fi) radio option. The solution will begin shipping this summer. Other potential applications include telemedicine — the ability to monitor patients remotely.

In the past, Aruba has enabled a standard Wi-Fi access point to be plugged into a cellular modem. Mobile RAP technology delivers follow-me connectivity to mobile users once the modem is plugged into the access point. The wide area connectivity is provided by a broadband wireless USB modem (including EVDO and HSPA) or Ethernet — or both for high-availability applications. RAP automatically will select the fastest available connection. If one fails it will switch to the surviving connection.

With the introduction of the virtual branch office solution, Aruba now can offer public safety a more comprehensive, easy-to-use solution that offers more options to use cellular as backhaul, Tennefoss said.

"We will be going to public safety. It's one of the areas that we will be marketing our services," Tennefoss said.

Aruba already has had some experience with providing communications to public safety. When an F4 tornado hit Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in 2008, it destroyed a significant part of the university. Aruba donated a Wi-Fi controller and 75 access points to restore Internet communications. The solution also proved to be a vital interoperability tool for the National Guard, state and local first responders, and utilities. All were able to plug into an access point to communicate with each another.

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