NYC gets wireless public-safety network
Just a day after the nation remembered the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York City officials awarded a five-year, $500-million contract to global defense company Northrop Grumman to build a broadband wireless public-safety network using commercial technology known as TD-CDMA.
The move is being closely watched by other cities across the nation as the network will utilize 10 MHz of licensed spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band obtained via lease agreements with Sprint Nextel, the nation’s largest holder of 2.5 GHz spectrum, and Trans Video Communications, owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, according to Paul Chelson, Northrop Grumman’s wireless program manager.
Sprint Nextel has some 90 MHz of spectrum covering 80 markets in the U.S. and plans to deploy WiMAX technology in the band. The diocese has held Educational Broadband Services (EBS) spectrum for decades. Partly through lobbying efforts from the diocese, the FCC recently let EBS licensees transmit broadband data in this band and also lease spectrum to third parties to do the same. The spectrum previously was reserved for instructional television services.
With a lack of spectrum for public-safety broadband services, leasing spectrum from 2.5 GHz license holders could quickly become a viable option for cities desperately searching for broadband capabilities, provide some interoperability across the country and leverage the economies of scale associated with commercial technology.
Sprint Nextel was not available for comment by the publishing deadline concerning whether it might extend leasing options to public-safety entities in other cities. But it’s clear EBS spectrum holders have shown a willingness to lease spectrum as the broadband market heats up.
TD-CDMA is a standardized next-generation network technology that originally was anticipated to be rolled out in 2008, essentially for overflow capacity for when W-CDMA frequency division duplex (FDD) channels had reached capacity. But California-based IPWireless accelerated the development and commercialization of the technology years sooner, creating a non-line-of-sight, high-capacity system designed as a DSL replacement. The network initially was deployed by small ISPs in various parts of the world but is now used by commercial carriers, such as European wireless operator Orange. It also is likely to be an important part of the next phase of the commercial 3G UMTS standard, known as Long Term Evolution, and IPWireless has introduced a mobile TV architecture that is being adopted in Japan.
Northrop Grumman, a name more typically associated with military shipbuilding and space technology, has been working with IPWireless for several years, evaluating its technologies and testing them in pilot systems in a number of public-safety markets, Chelson said. The company honed in on IPWireless after testing a number of alternative technologies. Although the New York City project is the first announced public-safety project for the duo, it stands to reason that Northrop Grumman looks to become a major player in the public-safety wireless market.
Jon Hambidge, vice president of marketing with IPWireless, expects public-safety deployments of TD-CDMA to heat up. “Many cities have been following the New York City project. I think the selection process and requirements show that we are the best ‘real’ technology for meeting these requirements,” he said.
Indeed, Chelson said New York City had some stringent requirements for high-speed mobility, security and reliability. Northrop Grumman’s conclusion is that TD-CDMA is best suited for larger city public-safety applications, which is why it isn’t pushing mesh technologies.
“New York City’s requirements combined with the geographical layout of the city and the wide-area network operation of the system, make the 3G/4G cellular technology of IPWireless much more conducive to meeting the city’s requirements than the 4.9 GHz mesh technology, especially when considering the tens of thousands of mesh nodes that would be required and the associated maintenance costs,” he said.
Motorola was the vendor that lost out to Northrop Grumman, according to a spokesman with New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). Motorola was pushing a mobile mesh WiMAX-like system. But Mobile WiMAX needs at least 10 MHz of spectrum to offer efficient high-speed data applications.
“Intel has been pretty clear that an operator needs 30 MHz to operate a mobile WiMAX system, because neighboring sectors have to be on different frequencies or they will cause interference with each other,” Jon Hambidge, vice president of marketing for IPWireless, said. “What we’ve managed to do is create a system that works so that all the neighboring sectors can be on the same frequency without interfering with each other.”
To achieve this, IPWireless uses an interference-cancellation technology known as advanced multi-user detection that is the company’s “secret sauce” in the commercial marketplace, Hambidge said. The IPWireless solution utilizes TD-CDMA and MIMO to deliver data rates of 8 Mb/s to 10 Mb/s download and 1 Mb/s to 2 Mb/s upload in a typical download-intensive environment, which may not be used by New York public safety, Hambidge said.
The broadband network is expected to be operational in Lower Manhattan by January 2007. In the middle of next year, IPWireless plans to issue a software release that will more than double the data rates on the New York City network to reach 30 Mb/s throughput, Hambidge said.
DoITT said it chose Northrop Grumman after a lengthy collaborative evaluation among first responders in New York City. The evaluation included a seven-month pilot in Lower Manhattan that successfully demonstrated that the technology held up during emergency simulations and multiple failure scenarios, including the loss of commercial power and telecommunications services. The technology also demonstrated its ability to prioritize emergency communications over non-critical communications.
“The city will also work, through our existing interoperable communications committees, to ensure that our partners in state, federal and regional public-safety agencies have access to CMWN (Citywide Mobile Wireless Network),” DoITT Commissioner Paul Cosgrave said. “The network will also be available to host public-safety wireless applications of non-city agencies operating in the five boroughs.”