Rhode Island Prepares For Statewide Wireless Net

An ambitious effort to create a wireless broadband network to cover the entire state of Rhode Island is moving towards the implementation stage as two trial networks are currently being

April 5, 2006

2 Min Read
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An ambitious effort to create a wireless broadband network to cover the entire state of Rhode Island is moving towards the implementation stage as two trial networks are currently being established.

The non-profit Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Networks (RI-WINS) is in the process of deploying a base station at the Brown University Science Laboratory and another in Newport, said Bob Panoff, who has been spearheading the RI-WINS effort.

"It will be a hybrid network," said Panoff in an interview this week. "The core will be WiMAX with Wi-Fi at the edge." The network, planned to cover the state's more than 1,000 square miles, is tentatively planned to be in operation in 18 to 24 months or so.

Panoff noted that the main thrust of RI-WINS is to develop an innovative network that could be used by a multiplicity of users including government agencies, businesses, and education institutions. It is not planned to provide network access for individual consumer usage.

Panoff said RI-WINS examined different scenarios before settling on the WiMAX-Wi-Fi combination. A Wi-Fi statewide network would require 9,000 access points while just 120 WiMAX base stations would be required to cover the state. A cell phone network was also considered, but was rejected because of high cost. The network, which will have speeds over 1 Mbps, will utilize a combination of hotspot, mesh and WiMAX architectures."Creating a partnership was the most difficult and the most interesting part," said Panoff. Scores of organizations and companies have worked to move the project along. IBM and Brown University have assumed key responsibilities in developing the network along with Cox Communications, the Rhode Island Department of Administration, the Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network, and the Business Innovation Factory. The last named organization plans to develop future innovations around the network.

Panoff, principal at marketing consultancy RPM Strategy, said state agencies would receive the most initial payback from the network. One early user of the network will likely be the state's network for waterborne first responders, a port security program. "We will provide for waterborne first responders," said Panoff. "Rhode Island is the 'Ocean State.' One-third of the state is water."

Pre-WiMAX equipment from Navini is planned for initial use, although the open standards network is expected to be able utilize gear from multiple vendors when it is completed.

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