Wireless infrastructure goes unguarded

NEWPORT, R.I.-The national wireless infrastructure 'is one of the most important and least protected parts' of U.S. communications capability, a technology strategist said today.

David Porte, an executive with technology incubator Astrolabe Innovations of Cambridge, Mass., said the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were a case in point. Porte spoke at a Newport, R.I., conference sponsored by the National High-Performance Computing and Communications Council.

The trade center towers housed hubs for multiple types of communications, he said: broadcast, land-line telecommunications and cellular phones. Yet when the towers fell, 'cell phones became the primary means of national security communications,' Porte said. 'Everyone from President Bush to FBI agents to state police to people on the street were depending on their cell phones.'

The result was widespread congestion with a ripple effect that ended in loss of many communications spokes, he said. Lack of wireless interoperability also interfered with government communication in that crisis, as it did again during the Washington sniper attacks last year.

The wireline infrastructure, although the first to go down on Sept. 11, 'was the first to recover because of built-in redundancy,' he said.

Porte urged government agencies not to forget that in a crisis, when official business can pre-empt all communications modes, urgent calls from citizens about new emergencies might not get through.

He encouraged greater density of cells and wireless hubs, saying, 'We're going to have to decide when emergency features are important. Government and industry need to get wireless ready for emergencies. That's only being done now on an ad-hoc basis.'

(Daukantas reported from Rhode Island)

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