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Idaho Police Department Installs WLAN Gear

By Bob Brewin
May 5, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Scott Haug, a patrol lieutenant on the police force in Post Falls, Idaho, decided last year that he wanted to give officers access to the same kind of applications and information they might use at the station on their desktop computers, while they were out patroling the city in their cruisers.
Post Falls is about 25 miles east of Spokane, Wash., in the Idaho panhandle. Its police department, like many other public safety agencies in the country, had relied primarily on voice radio for communications between its dispatch center and patrol cars, an inefficient and error-prone system.
Although it isn't his primary role, Haug says he took on the wireless network job because of his interest in computers and communications, describing himself as a self-taught computer hobbyist.
Haug's plan was to provide patrol officers with e-mail and direct access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center database and give headquarters the ability to rapidly transmit photos of crime suspects to the patrol cars. Haug says he spent close to a year researching wireless options that could meet the department's needs and finally settled on what he calls "nontraditional" use of 802.11b wireless LAN systems.
The department examined but rejected high-speed cellular data service because even with advanced service, the cellular carriers offered data rates measured in kilobits per second compared with 802.11b networks that promised raw data rates of 11Mbit/sec., Haug says.
Backed by a grant of $160,000 from the Department of Justice and additional funding of $40,000 from the city, Haug built a wireless network that gave patrol officers the same kind of connectivity and access to applications they would have at the station over the 60 square miles of the city. The network went live earlier this year.
Adapting 802.11b Wi-Fi WLAN gear -- which has a range of about 300 feet -- to serve as a WAN covering such a large area proved a challenge, Haug says. The network required installation of an infrastructure of 22 Wi-Fi access points from Proxim Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif. These access points are interconnected to one another and police headquarters by five 11Mbit/sec. backbone links using Proxim Orinoco outdoor routers. They operate in the same 2.4-GHz frequency bands as the access points.
The network, which includes access points on 4,500 mountains, helped ensure coverage over and around hills and trees, which the city has in generous quantities.
Despite this extensive infrastructure, Haug says the network manages only 90% coverage. When officers hit a dead spot, they have to move their cars. "You're never going to get 100% coverage using

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