Seattle CTO Bill Schrier plans to deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless functionality throughout the city, which will give law enforcement higher priority for mobile communications traffic. Schrier expects the network to give public safety professionals more reliable communications and possibly reduce hardware costs. Schrier has served under multiple Seattle mayors as CTO and manages the Seattle Department of Information Technology. He has long been a passionate advocate of expanding municipal fiber networks.

Why can’t law enforcement just use the commercial connectivity already in place in Seattle?

We’ve got approximately 1,500 wireless modems that are used in police cars, fire engines, electric utility trucks and by building inspectors. The trouble with that commercial network is it works fine for most things, but there is no priority. Your iPhone here in Seattle has the same priority as a computer in a police car in terms of access to the wireless network.

How might an LTE network save Seattle money?

The good thing about LTE is it’s for both commercial and government. All of our voice networks use standards like Project 25, which is a government-only standard for wireless networking. The LTE network is going to be used by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile for consumer networks as well. That means if we use the same technology on the government network, the cost of everything will be cheaper. The cost of the handheld devices and modems for police cars — they’ll be mass-produced by the manufacturer. [My] BlackBerry right now uses a commercial network, but will be able to use LTE.

How will the public react to the tall poles necessary for an LTE network?

Poles are a big problem in suburban communities. People don’t want a cell tower in front of their property, whether it’s a government or commercial cell tower blocking their view. Seattle is covered with a lot of trees. It’s not flat — there are a lot of hills and valleys; there are a lot of buildings. For us, it’s still an issue if we want to site a cell tower. There is still stuff you’ve got to go through, and neighbors object.

How might you avoid those conflicts?

I’m going to use Seattle Housing Authority buildings, which are already six or eight stories tall, or fire stations. We’re going to use those sorts of sites, which already exist so we won’t have to create them. I think we’ll need to only site three or four cell towers. Most neighborhoods have some sort of Seattle Housing Authority building.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor