CTIA: L.A. police plan to deploy WLANs to boost bandwidth

NEW ORLEANS -- Heightened homeland security requirements demand higher-bandwidth communications systems for public safety agencies, and to meet that demand, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) plans to install 27 wireless LANs at police stations throughout the city within the next three months, according to Roger Ham, deputy chief for communications at the LAPD.

Ham, interviewed here at the annual Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) conference, said he plans to equip police cars with handheld computers from Symbol Technologies Inc. in Holtsville, N.Y. The handheld devices will be equipped with 802.11b wireless LAN cards that communicate in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz band with access points installed in police stations at a raw data rate of 11M bit/sec. That compares with the 19.2K bit/sec. throughput in the department's citywide 800-MHz wide-area network installed by Motorola Inc. two years ago.

Ham said he eventually wants to develop an interface between the WLAN radio in the Symbol handheld and the Motorola radio in the police car. This will allow officers to use the handheld as a remote unit connected to the citywide system while outside their vehicles. Smaller California police departments, including that of the city of Glendale, have deployed similar WLAN-to-WAN systems (see story).

Mike Shlasko, director of public safety at Symbol, said his company would furnish the LAPD with 1,500 Pocket PC-based rugged handheld devices to be used in cars and motorcycles and by foot-patrol officers. Shlasko called this the largest deployment of rugged handheld devices ever done by a public safety agency. Symbol will provide the LAPD with the handheld devices as a subcontractor to Vytek Wireless Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., under a deal finalized during the past few weeks. The agreement hasn't yet been publicly announced.

Though the range of WLANs is limited -- approximately 300 feet -- Ham said installation at police stations will make it easy to distribute graphic images such as mug shots and maps to officers in real time. Currently, mug shots are distributed on paper at the roll call for each shift, Ham said. The WLAN system could also provide a fast way to distribute photos of lost children as part of so-called Amber Alerts.

Will Strauss, an analyst at Forward Concepts Inc. in Tempe, Ariz., called Ham's plan "a cheap way to get bandwidth" that would allow LAPD units to periodically pick up high-bandwidth data as they pass by police stations equipped with WLAN systems.

Ham said that he views WLANs as a stopgap measure and that police departments around the country need additional WAN spectrum to handle both routine duties as well as homeland security requirements. For example, the LAPD now handles security at Los Angeles International Airport; Ham said the department could use additional WAN bandwidth to transmit information from facial recognition systems.

Police departments will eventually be able to tap into wideband services in the 700-MHz band currently used by television stations as those stations transition to digital TV. But the Federal Communications Commission has given stations until 2006 to vacate that band, which Ham said is too long to wait considering the current security climate. He said large police departments would eventually need to buy wideband WAN service from commercial cellular carriers.

Concerns about homeland security and an imminent war in Iraq continued to affect the CTIA conference here at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Even before Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the country's security alert status and revealed the existence of "Operation Liberty Shield" last night, the CTIA had increased its security.

CTIA spokesman Travis Larson said the Washington-based association hired its own security consultant, who is in constant touch with the New Orleans Police Department, the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard because the convention center is located beside the Mississippi River. Larson added that bomb-sniffing dogs constantly patrol the show floor.

George Pederson, business development director at TT Electronics PLC, a Surrey, England-based manufacturer of uninterruptible power supplies, said war worries have definitely cut attendance at the show. "Attendance is way down. ... This is the worst attendance I've seen at CTIA in years," Pedersen said.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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