New York City first responders have high-speed wireless connectivity anywhere across the city's more than 300 square miles, thanks to the newly deployed New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN). The price tag was $500 million, paid to vendor Northrop Grumman to build the network, then operate and maintain it over the next five years. The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) initiated the project with the vendor in 2006.

NYCWiN allows responders to transmit large file transfers, including fingerprints, mug shots, city maps, automatic vehicle location and full-motion streaming video. As a fully interoperable, IP-based network, NYCWiN links the various responder disciplines to that information wirelessly. This means New York Fire Department and New York City Office of Emergency Management workers could utilize video being shot by the New York City Police Department (NYPD), explained Nicholas Sbordone, director of external affairs for the DoITT. The officials commanding the responders do so from remote sites using the real-time data and video feeds.

The DoITT and NYPD plan to install wireless modems in 1,800 patrol fleet vehicles, enabling officers in the field to access applications previously available only from their desktops. Mug shots and moving traffic violations information are prime examples, according to the DoITT.

Unlike many of the citywide wireless networks proposed in the past using Wi-Fi, NYCWiN is powered by a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). New York's UMTS uses radio towers built throughout the city that keep a user connected as he or she moves from tower to tower. Wi-Fi, by contrast, would require users to reconnect as they move from one transmitter's field range to another's, explained Steve Harte, associate commissioner of wireless technologies at the DoITT. He said UMTS towers were similar to cell phone towers.

"We covered the city with 380 cell sites. If we did Wi-Fi it would have taken 20,000 Wi-Fi transmitters," Harte said.

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Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.