May 12, 2003
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
A free newsletter to all IT Wireless subscribers.

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Niagara Falls Bridges Choose Wireless Backbone

Wireless is more than a network technology for end users. It can also replace high-speed connections between facilities, replacing T1 and other such dedicated data lines. In some situations, it's the only option for connecting facilities because the cost of running wires in rural, inhospitable, or densely built areas is too prohibitive. A good example is the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, a joint U.S.-Canada government agency that manages three bridges that span the Niagara River between Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ont. The bridges are several miles apart.

For years, the bridge commission has relied on the public phone network to link its bridge towers to each other and to a control center in Niagara Falls, N.Y. But increasing PBX traffic strained this network, and the cost of renting a dedicated line from the phone companies was too prohibitive, says Michael O'Reilly, head of MIS for the commission. The issue became urgent two years ago when the bridge commission decided implement video surveillance over real-time data feeds. That application requires 40Mbps of full-duplex bandwidth for both remotely controlling the cameras and transmitting the images in real time. The public phone network can't handle that kind of bandwidth need, and leasing high-speed data lines was too expensive, O'Reilly says. Furthermore, the cost of installing its own dedicated lines among the bridge offices was also much too expensive, since on the U.S. side they are surrounded by a densely built-up urban area where acquiring rights of way and then paying for installation could run millions of dollars and on the Canadian side is a waterfront provincial park.

So the bridge commission decided to use directional wireless links that can handle 100Bmps of traffic among the U.S. offices on the bridges and the administrative office. On each bridge, the Canadian office is linked to the U.S. office on the other side using a wired link on the bridge itself and then through the wireless links to the other offices. The system has been in operation for about 10 months. The commission uses standard Ethernet networks and backbones within its facilities, which see the wireless links as just another line. "A lot of people are using wireless as an addition [to their networks], but it's a part of our actual backbone," O'Reilly says.

O'Reilly says the system delivers 100Mbps of available bandwidth for data and voice, and it has additional bandwidth for forward error correction and in-band management. The bridge commission selected DragonWave Systems for its wireless link technology and Transwave for the systems integration after considering other vendors. O'Reilly notes that many companies have expertise in either IP or radio technology, but not both, so finding a suitable wireless vendor was tough. In fact, the bridge commission had tried another company's system and had to throw it out. The commission also had to toss $80,000 of Cisco routing equipment because it did not support wireless IP well enough, something the commission did not realize in its earlier use of 802.11 technology within its offices because the flaw showed up only in a backbone environment.

O'Reilly shrugs off the cost, though, since the alternative paying millions to install dedicated wired lines simply wasn't an option. The high-speed wireless link system cost about $20,000 per link, excluding the towers that the commission had to construct for the directional antennas. O'Reilly says that the total cost of the wireless system is less than it would cost to rent a fiber-optic line from a telephone company for just two years.

The next step may be to bring in standard 802.11 access points to the bridge plaza areas, to connect bridge employees more easily to the commission's information systems. But first, he's working with his engineering team on the video surveillance system. While the wireless backbone delivers the needed high-speed connection, O'Reilly has found that video delivery over IP, regardless of the transport medium, requires more maturation.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at

From our editors

A subscriber exclusive! IT Wireless's Essential Products Guide is now available to subscribers. The 17-page PDF file contains a listing of key vendors and service providers, with summaries of their offerings and contact information. Categories include wireless network and client hardware, network and client software, and IT services. Download the NEW SPRING 2003 directory now!

The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech

As wireless technology gains acceptance in the enterprise, more and more security offerings have come on the market:

  • Bluesocket has released the WGX-4000 Switch Wireless Gateway, an 802.11 wireless LAN gateway offering 800Mbps throughput, support for thousands of users, centralized management via a matrix architecture, and security.
  • Perfigo has released its SecureSmart software suite, designed to securely integrate 802.11 wireless LANs into an organization's existing network infrastructure, providing security and user and device management.
  • ITServ has added 802.11a/b/g support to its RideWay Station family of virtual private network (VPN) devices. The RideWay Station WLAN, which starts at $695, detects and blocks unauthorized users and requires all wireless connection to go through a VPN. No client software is needed.
  • Fortress Technologies now offers a wireless gateway that permits up to three levels of authentication: at the network, device, and user levels.
  • Cybernet Systems has upgraded its Linux-based NetMaxt "Internet appliances" essentially, preconfigured servers to support 802.11b networks, including support for firewalls and VPNs. The 802.11b-savvy Version 4.03 is a free downloadable upgrade for current Version 4.0 users.
  • WildPackets has released version 2.0 of its AiroPeak NX wireless LAN analysis software. The new version supports 802.11a/b/g, adds security audit features, supports 802.1x authentication and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption, and supports RFGrabber distributed analysis.
  • Senforce has released version 1.5 of its $49 Senforce Shield software, which automatically configures the security settings on Windows 2000 and XP notebooks when they connect to an 802.11a or 802.11b access point.

In other enterprise wireless product developments:

  • IBM has released Mobile Office Entry Jumpstart, a set of hardware, middleware, and services to help enterprises test-run WebSphere software with Palm Tungsten handhelds, supporting up to 50 clients and extending applications to devices to support sales force automation (SFA) and field force automation (SFA). IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Access environment supports the Palm OS, Linux, Symbian, and Pocket PC platforms.
  • Research in Motion has partnered with Palm, Microsoft, and Symbian to offer BlackBerry connectivity technology to makers of devices for those platforms. It has also struck similar deals with cell phone makers Nokia and HTC as part of an effort to make the BlackBerry messaging service available to users regardless of their handheld hardware choice.
  • PCTel has announced SegueSAM, software that lets any notebook with an 802.11 adapter or built-in 802l.11 radio act as a Wi-Fi access point and router, to let notebook users set up ad-hoc hot spots, such as in meetings or hotel rooms. The notebook needs to be connected to the Internet or other network via a wired Ethernet connection so it can access the Internet or corporate network. The software should be available by October.
  • Cisco Systems has gotten into the voice-over-IP phone business, now dominated by Spectralink and also served by Avaya and Vocera. The $595 phones, which work in 802.11-based wireless corporate networks, should be available in July.

Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to


The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace

Evans Data's newest Wireless Development Survey of wireless-focused developers has found that Bluetooth network security mechanisms in use are evenly divided among Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) 2.0 at 19%, 17%, and 16%, respectively. The 802.11 network security mechanisms in use are SSL at 21%, PKI at 16%, and user authentication/passwords at 15%. The greatest increase from six months ago for Bluetooth was PKI and for 802.11 it was user authentication/passwords, both of which expanded their user base by 36%. Other findings from the March survey of nearly 500 developers focused on the wireless development market include:

  • Deployments of wireless Web services-enabled applications are expected to increase. More than 50% of survey respondents indicating that they'll deploy such applications in the next 12 months.
  • Most wireless developers (nearly 60%) plan to support Nokia's product line. Other notable brands include Hewlett-Packard at 54%, Palm at 48%, and Motorola at 45%.
  • Bluetooth and 802.11 wireless LAN technology are expected to continue gaining development resources: 58% of survey respondents currently using or evaluating Bluetooth, up from 41% six months ago, and 56% currently using or evaluating 802.11, up from 50% six months ago.

A French-American consortium that includes Cisco Systems is testing 802.11b deployments in a dozen Paris subway stations, with an eye to rolling out access points to every station at a cost of $10 million if user uptake is favorable. That would make it the largest Wi-Fi "cloud" in the world. Users would sign up for service from one of several carriers at yet-to-be-determined fees (access is free through June 30). But Wi-Fi access will not be available on the trains themselves.

Some industry developments to keep an eye on:

  • Dell Computer and Good Technology, which offers a messaging service that competes with the more widely known Research in Motion BlackBerry service, have agreed to collaborate on messaging devices and services to be sold under the Dell name. Dell will also resell Good devices and service. This marks continued movement into the mobile and wireless device market by Dell, which last year offered its first PDA, based on the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system.
  • Texas Instruments is entering the CDMA chipset market, competing with CDMA inventor and owner Qualcomm. That may help allay concerns that some companies have on basing their cellular data systems on CDMA-based networks, since Qualcomm has been criticized in the past for overly aggressive patent and licensing policies. Nokia and Samsung also make CDMA chips sets, but only for their own phones.
  • T-Mobile and Western Wireless have agreed to permit GPRS roaming between their networks. Western Wireless, which serves about 4 million users in the largely rural western U.S., will acquire GPRS spectrum from T-Mobile and install GPRS capability by mid-2004 on at least half of its cell stations along 5,500 miles of highways. The agreement should make wireless data access more available to GPRS-based users, such as truckers and salespeople, traveling through the West. T-Mobile also has GPRS roaming agreements with AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless. T-Mobile now also lets its hot-spot subscribers have their service included on their cellular bills, the first step in integrating its cellular and 802.11 offerings.

This issue's sponsor: Oracle
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