Mobile data networks on the move
As users make the transition from CDPD to more advanced technologies, mobile data vendors continue to stake claims in the marketplace. For Tropos Networks, one of its newest customers is the city of Milpitas, Calif., which is deploying the company’s metro-scale Wi-Fi technology over five square miles, initially to provide wireless communications in 30 police cars and 20 fire department vehicles.
Along with other applications, fire officers and paramedics will use the network to view images from a video camera at a major freeway intersection as they respond to accidents there. This will “give them a little bit of an idea, while they’re en route, what they have to deal with,” said Bill Marion, the city’s information services director.
Tropos recently announced upgrades to its cell-site operating system and to the software that controls activity on its networks. The company also introduced some hardware improvements, including a battery backup and a three-decibel increase in the cell site’s receiving sensitivity. The latter allows Tropos to cover an area effectively with fewer access points, “helping customers on the capital-expenditure side,” said Bert Williams, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Nextel’s market trial of a wireless broadband service in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., using technology from Flarion Technologies, has moved into a new stage, as paying customers join test users from Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and IBM. “As they’ve allowed commercial users to come onto the network, real-estate agencies and insurance agencies are signing up and equipping people,” along with other businesses, said Ronny Haraldsvik, vice president of marketing at Flarion.
Among those subscribers is Lee Lloyd, owner of 4NCrecords.com, which gives law firms and other customers online access to criminal, civil and motor-vehicle records. With a wireless card in his laptop, Lloyd uses the network to demonstrate his Web-based service while visiting clients, to update customer accounts, to view billing information from the road and to access his site while helping customers with problems.
Performance on the network is similar to performance delivered by broadband cable networks, Lloyd says. He has employed it while driving around town as well as while working in one spot, and he sometimes uses it in the evening to conduct business from the family motorboat. “I’m sitting in the middle of the lake, water skiing, and I can still service my client,” he says.
Another Flarion partner, Vodafone, soon will start a six-month trial of Flarion’s technology in Tokyo to verify its performance in a dense metropolitan area, Haraldsvik said.
At MeshNetworks, recent developments include a demonstration of the company’s multi-hopping, ad hoc wireless technology operating at 4.9 GHz, the band the Federal Communications Commission has established for public-safety use. While there is no standard yet for mobile broadband systems on that frequency, MeshNetworks officials believe it will develop as a variant of the 802.11a standard, said Peter Stanforth, the company’s chief technology officer.
MeshNetworks has been using its prototype technology to try to “characterize what the capabilities are and maybe what some of the issues are” to help the standards-making process, Stanforth said.
Even before that process is complete, MeshNetworks could release a 4.9 GHz product — possibly next year — and then refine it to conform to the standard when the time comes, Stanforth said. MeshNetworks and several partners are responding to a request for proposal from the New York City Department of Information Technology for a 4.9 GHz public-safety radio system, he said.
Another new product from MeshNetworks is MeshConnex, a software platform for developing ad hoc wireless networks. This will allow companies that develop standards-based data radios, or that incorporate such radios into wireless devices, to develop complete networks based on MeshNetworks’ technology, Stanforth said.
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