Energy extends two-way system into remote area

Energy extends two-way system into remote area

Department's Nevada Operations Office buys 14 WebLink sites necessary to cover secluded location

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The Energy Department is replacing an outdated paging system at its remote Nevada test site with a two-way messaging system linked to the national network of WebLink Wireless Inc. of Dallas.

'It's a first-of-its-kind partnership,' said William Donahoe, a telecommunications specialist at Energy's Nevada Operations Office. 'We are purchasing the 14 WebLink sites needed to cover our area and will be allowed to manage them.'

The deal is worth about $3.7 million to WebLink, whose commercial coverage area will gain about 100 square miles.

WebLink is a subcontractor to Bechtel Nevada, a division of Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco, which operates the sprawling Nevada site north of Las Vegas for Energy.

WebLink's national wireless network covers about 90 percent of the U.S. population, and the company acts as a carrier for other wireless service providers.

The Nevada test site employs about 2,800 workers in an area the size of Rhode Island'not enough customers to attract commercial operators.

To keep in touch with each other, 'most of our people have had to wear two pagers,' Donahoe said.

SkyTel Communications Inc., a subsidiary of MCI WorldCom Inc., has provided national paging. Local service has been through Energy's own Nevada Test Site Paging System, using government-owned, ultra-high-frequency spectrum.

But even with the dual coverage, service has been unsatisfactory. SkyTel's single transmitter in Las Vegas could not blanket the entire test site, and Energy's system provided only one-way paging with no guaranteed delivery.

When the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration mandated that government users pare down the UHF spectrum used by Energy's paging system from 25 KHz to 12.5 KHz, an upgrade to the existing system made no sense.

'We would have had to change out a lot of equipment,' Donahoe said. 'So we investigated partnering with a commercial provider.'

WebLink's extensive network will give the test site workers local and national coverage with a single device. The system uses a network of transceivers that pass signals off to each other, much like a cellular telephone system but optimized for data. WebLink is adding 14 transceivers to its Nevada network and installing a dedicated switch and e-mail routers for the Energy traffic.

'This is an extension of our network,' said Doug Glen, WebLink's vice president for corporate development. 'The transmitters and receivers around the range link back to our national network.'

Energy's purchase of the equipment makes the expansion economically viable for WebLink, and the department's management of the site will help maintain availability in the event of system outages, Donahoe said.

Although Energy will own and manage the transceivers covering the test site, that portion of the network will still be open to commercial traffic, expanding WebLink's coverage along the corridor between Las Vegas and Reno.

Energy users have three choices for service, depending on their equipment. So-called 1.5-way paging lets users send and acknowledge alphanumeric messages.

With 1.7-way paging, they can send messages and acknowledge them from a preset list of replies. With full two-way paging, they have a keyboard to send and respond to messages.

For full two-way messaging, Glen said workers probably would use either Motorola Inc.'s PageWriter 2000 or the AccessLink II from Glenayre Electronics Inc. of Charlotte, N.C.

Two ways to go

The PageWriter is a two-way pager with a small QWERTY-style keyboard. It runs the Flex operating system, and it can receive pages and e-mail and send messages or faxes.

AccessLink also runs the Flex OS but has a virtual keyboard and an infrared port for wireless connections to notebook computers and personal digital assistants.

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