Colorado city gases up WiFi hot spots

When fire trucks and police cars pull up to a gas pump in Aurora, Colo., they are pumping software updates wirelessly into their mobile PCs.

Last December, the city installed a network that combines an IEEE 802.11b WiFi wireless network with a General Packet Radio Service network, said Michael Bedwell, manager of public safety systems for Aurora.

From a single PC, an administrator manages the blended networks with Mobility security software from NetMotion Wireless Inc. of Seattle and Mobile Manager and Avalanche software from Wavelink Corp. of Kirkland, Wash. The Mobility client software runs on the wireless notebooks. Its server software acts as a proxy to enterprise application servers.

Systems integrator Anyware Network Solutions of Englewood, Colo., helped the city build the wireless LAN.

In a typical scenario, a public-safety vehicle pulls up to the city-owned fuel pump, which hosts a WiFi hot spot. The Mobile Manager server recognizes the vehicle's Cisco Systems Inc. 802.11b card. Then the Wavelink software examines the vehicle's notebook PC and pushes any needed files to it.

If a vehicle leaves the pump before the download is finished, the Wavelink software sets a bookmark. When the vehicle returns, the software knows where it left off and continues downloading the file.

'The operators don't even know this is happening,' Bedwell said. 'As far as they know, they are just getting fuel.'

Saving staff time

It used to take 14 IT staff members to update 300 public-safety PCs over a much slower Cellular Digital Packet Data network. Officers had to drive to Aurora's records building to find a mug shot, as opposed to 20 seconds with the new WiFi-GPRS network, because the CDPD network couldn't handle digital mug shots.

Any update'whether a security patch or a new piece of software'had to be installed on each PC by a member of the IT staff.

A few months ago when the Blaster worm infested the city's PCs, 'I had 14 people working on a Friday night until 2 a.m.,' Bedwell said. 'These things never happen Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. We had to upgrade the CDPD system in each vehicle sitting in our fleet parking lot. That was a huge amount of overtime and effort. Now the WiFi network and server will take care of it for us.'
The city has already saved in overtime what it cost to install the system, he said.

By the end of December, the city had installed Cisco WiFi cards and Wavelink software in 63 fire trucks and more than 230 police vehicles.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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