Fla. county office defies Hurricane Charley

The FlightLite wireless bridge kept working throughout the Category 4 storm, even though thousands of people in the county lost power.

It took years of searching, but Collier County, Fla., finally found a network bridge for transmitting data over troubled waters'not to mention hurricane-speed winds.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court's office used to send financial and auditing data over a T1 line to the county's data center, about 1,000 feet away. 'It was supposed to be temporary, but we had it for a decade,' said Jeffrey Handshaw, the office's network administrator.

The T1 line would sometimes go down for a week at a time. 'The switch box was outside,' Handshaw said, 'and people would bash it or mow it down with their cars.'

He did some calculating and figured that for less than the monthly fee for the T1 line, the county could be using WiFi without so many interruptions.

First, he tried an IEEE 802.11b bridge that ran at about 4 Mbps. 'That was not quite what we had hoped,' Handshaw said, and speed soon became an issue.

Like governments everywhere, the county wanted to avoid buying expensive equipment. To lay optical fiber to the data center would have cost about $50,000, Handshaw said.

Searching for a reasonably priced but still speedy LAN-to-LAN connection, Handshaw and his crew looked at an optical wireless bridge.

The county decided on the FlightLite 155E optical wireless bridge from LightPointe of San Diego. Handshaw installed the 9.9-pound, 100-Mbps device on a shelf by his window, where it beams data to a window at the data center.

'I like to have control of my equipment and keep the birds off it,' he said.

When Hurricane Charley slammed the Florida coast in August, the FlightLite bridge kept working throughout the Category 4 storm, even though thousands of people in the county lost power.

Handshaw said he monitored the link from his home PC, farther inland.

'When the storm moved in, I could see a degradation in signal, but not a loss,' he said. 'I was amazed. You'd think a leaf would stick to the window and block the signal. But it didn't happen.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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