Big Doings in the Big Apple

Next month — more than four years after issuing its RFP for a citywide network for public safety and other government applications — New York City will light up the initial phase of New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN), according to CIO Paul Cosgrave. NYCWiN initially will cover about 70 percent of the city’s 322-square-mile expanse, according to Cosgrave, who last week gave a detailed project update to several committees of the New York City Council. Cosgrave told the City Council that the service area will be expanded to 95 percent coverage by the summer, with full coverage by year’s end.

The project’s rollout is headed by lead contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., utilizing UTMS-based infrastructure from IP Wireless, a subsidiary of NextWave Wireless. The initial 5-year contract is valued at an extraordinary $500 million, with nearly all of it coming from the city itself; part of the initial public safety rollout was funded with $20 million from the Department of Homeland Security. (We can safely assume that NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks the idea of municipal funding and ownership of wireless networks is a smart thing….)

So, what will the New York wireless network applications profile look like? Very ambitious, to say the least. In fact, it can be argued that New York’s is the most comprehensive and far-reaching wireless project in the nation, in terms of applications breadth. It includes:

  • Public safety, both emergency services and non-emergency functions
  • Traffic control
  • Enforcement and inspection
  • Automatic meter reading (more than 800 homes in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn already have been equipped in an initial pilot project for reading water meters)
  • Asset tracking (specifically, what NY calls Automatic Vehicle Location)
  • Mobile worker productivity in a wide variety of agencies, including Health and Mental Hygiene and NYC Housing Authority

In all, the city says 53 different applications — across 19 different city agencies — are either in pilot deployment or are planned for this year.

Cosgrave points out that NYCWiN is one of the most strategic (and one of the best-funded) aspects of the city’s comprehensive IT architecture, called PlanIT.

What about public access? NYCWiN doesn’t address “community wireless” for a variety of reasons — primarily that it wanted to use licensed spectrum for NYCWiN, and that the city felt there were many wireless access options already in place (although Cosgrave readily notes that affordability is still an issue to be addressed for different community segments). But look for more details from New York in the coming months about a plan to address digital divide issues, as part of an overarching public broadband initiative.

NYCWiN is operating separately from the city’s other public WiFi initiatives, such as WiFi Salon’s public hot spots in 17 city parks, and the city’s transportation agencies’ program in concert with the CBS TV network for additional midtown hot spots.

Cosgrave and others acknowledge that the process has been a slow one, not without its “challenges” (negotiating mounting rights, for one, along with technical issues such as ensuring reliable coverage amid New York’s canyon-like corridors and integrating video data into the city’s back-office applications).

 Of course, much rests on the city’s ability (as well as Northrop Grumman’s) to not only roll out the initial production phase of the network but to properly manage the applications and other deliverables — and that won’t be immediately apparent. But, in keeping with New York’s persona, it’s a big plan with an ambitious agenda. If New York can pull it off, will it embolden other big cities to turn up the heat on their own programs?

Let’s hope so.

P.S.: Want to hear more about New York’s initiative in a few months? Register today for MuniWireless08:East in Philadelphia (June 10-11, 2008), where Cosgrave will give one of the keynote addresses and bring everyone up to date on how New York’s initial rollout is going.



    Northrop Grumman is walking on egg shells. The launch is behind schedule and the good old boys from VA have taken over the mgmt of the project. Of the 400 sites that Northrop was supposed to launch only 120 may be lit. There are constant problems with IP wireless equipment and there is low morale w/i NGC. HEADS WILL ROLL. The folks @ DoITT are misrepresenting the truth.