City of Providence, R.I., officials yesterday announced that a new citywide mesh network is allowing police and fire personnel to access broadband data and video from their vehicles, which is expected to change the way the officers work on a daily basis.

“It is working like a champ—I am so happy,” said Charles Hewitt, chief information officer for Providence. “When the cops are introduced to it, their eyes light up and you can see them thinking about things that—up until now—were really just a wish. When they see that the service they get in their vehicle is virtually the same as they experience deskside … their imaginations are working.”

Such possibilities are what city officials envisioned when they initiated plans to build a broadband network.

"As we approach the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Providence has taken significant steps to ensure that our first responders have the technology they need to keep our residents safe in the event of an emergency disaster," Providence Mayor David Cicilline said in a statement. "The data communications system will help our public-safety officials respond faster and more efficiently as a crisis unfolds."

System integrator Scientel coordinated the 500-node mesh-networking project, which was funded by a series of federal grants. Currently, 24 police cars and three fire command vehicles are equipped with the mesh technology, but plans call for all Providence first-responder vehicles to be mesh-enabled eventually, Hewitt said. In fact, other municipal vehicles will be on the system, if network capacity supports such a decision, he said.

Rick Rotondo, director of marketing for Motorola’s mesh-networks product group, said the Providence deployment represents a “return to our roots,” referring to the fact that Providence is using the mesh architecture over 2.4 GHz spectrum with single radios—a common deployment for MeshNetworks before Motorola purchased the company. Although Motorola has sold a number of four-radio MotoMesh systems, some entities opt for a single-radio architecture, Rotondo said.

“It’s a lot less expensive—instead of paying for four radios [per node], you’re paying for one,” he said. “It costs about a half or a third as much [as a MotoMesh network].”