Cisco re-targets wireless for municipal enterprise networks

Cisco products and partners focus on public safety, mobile employees

Cisco has bundled together its wireless product offerings with new software partners in a bid to refocus its strategy for municipal wireless networks.

With its Cisco Mobile Government program, the networking giant is working to convince municipalities to think of wireless as an enterprise network for municipal employees instead of a service provider network for residents and businesses. The change reflects a growing disenchantment with large-scale wireless mesh blankets mainly intended to provide municipally supported Internet access.

"We had looked at the existing [municipal wireless] models: mainly free services for citizen access, equal access and economic development," says Morgan Wright, Cisco's global industry solution manager for public safety and homeland security. "Those didn't produce the results people wanted."

Wright argues that successful municipal deployments of wireless are those that treat the technology as in effect an extension of the municipal enterprise network -- the network used by inspectors, police, firefighters and other city employees.

"Successful deployments involve investing taxpayer money to meet a specific need: delivering services to mobile employees and public safety [applications]," Wright says. "This is the basis of successful deployments for outdoor wireless nets. We focus on government first: on untethering workers, both within the walls and then outside them via wireless mesh for services in the field. We're using the net and [wireless] endpoints to allow government employees to work and do things."

But Cisco isn't abandoning the municipal-wide mesh market. For example, it remains as one of the three partners in the massive effort to blanket Silicon Valley in California with just such a network.

The Mobile Government package includes:

  • Cisco's 3200 wireless and mobile router, which mounts in a truck or cruiser for wired and wireless client access and an 11a wireless backhaul link to a metro Wi-Fi mesh.
  • Cisco will release in January for the 3200 an integrated onboard video card (from its 2007 acquisition of Broadware) to let analog video cameras in a vehicle attach directly to the 3200 router, where the analog-to-digital conversion takes place. The resulting digital IP stream can be distributed to anyone else.
  • For the 3200, Cisco's IP Interoperability and Collaboration System 2.0, which is a gateway to interconnect conventional push-to-talk or land-mobile radios and mobile phones with IP devices with the corresponding client code, such as handheld VoIP phones and VoIP software on notebooks.
  • Cisco Unified Communications Manager for VoIP calls.
  • New support for the licensed 4.9GHz band (reserved for public safety use) in the 3200 routers and the Cisco 1520 series two-radio outdoor Wi-Fi mesh access point.
  • A new member of the 1520 series, the 1524 model with as many as four modular radio slots, will be released in January.. The initial model will let 11abg and dedicated 4.9GHz clients connect to it, with an 11a backhaul connection. Later in 2008, Cisco will have a radio for a dedicated 4.9GHz backhaul link.
Also part of the package are partnerships with 3I Infotech and APS for public-safety applications, and with Accela, MobileFrame and Syclo for mobile worker and inspection applications. Other third-party products from Cisco's vertical partnerships bring to municipal users applications such as law enforcement investigations, hazardous materials tracking, facility management, electronic traffic citations, permitting, and sewer repair and maintenance. The applications have been tested for interoperability with the Cisco products and with two hardware partners, Intermec for rugged handheld computers and Panasonic for rugged notebooks.

"With this package, we cover the creation of data, its transport and delivery, applications, partners, financing," Wright says. "We've added Cisco Capital and Leasing, so we can do the entire solution for leasing, with various types of buy options at the end of lease, and for technology refresh."

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