New York City to deploy massive wireless broadband network

New York City has plans to build a massive public safety wireless broadband network that is believed to cost between $500 million to $1 billion (source: Glenn Fleishman). The city wants to provide its public safety employees (e.g. police and fire personnel) with the ability to send and receive data at up to 2 Mbps even while traveling at the New York City has plans to build a massive public safety wireless broadband network that is believed to cost between $500 million to $1 billion (source: Glenn Fleishman). The city wants to provide its public safety employees (e.g. police and fire personnel) with the ability to send and receive data at up to 2 Mbps even while traveling at the speed of 70 mph (113 kph) citywide. I’d say getting up to 70 mph in New York City may be the biggest challenge of all, not unwiring the city.

New York’s RFP is directed to systems integrators who can deliver a turn-key solution. New York wants the following:

  • Wireless broadband public safety (high speed data and video)
  • Wireless Automatic Vehicle Location (“AVL”)
  • Wireless call boxes for emergency services
  • Wireless traffic signal control

Vendors have been asked to submit bids by next month. They will run 3-month pilot projects using different types of equipment and from there, select the winner of the project. The final contract will most likely run for a period of five years with options for two five-year renewals, according to Computerworld. The Computerworld article also says that EDS, HP, IBM, iXP, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon sent representatives to a bidders’ conference and are viewed as potential candidates, although the companies themselves did not confirm the latter.

I am wondering what the city’s deployment will look like. They will probably use mesh technology connected to the city’s own fiber network as the backbone (NYC has its own fiber network). Vendors are already lining up to promote the qualities of their products. Bert Williams, vice president of marketing at Tropos Networks, a mesh equipment vendor, says they could cover all of Manhattan with 600 Wi-Fi access points operating in the 2.4-GHz frequency band. Lucent is promoting EV-DO in the 1900-MHz cellular band. Hardware vendors will have to team up with the systems integrators to get their gear deployed in the pilot projects.

Not that easy

Yet for all the promise of mesh and other kinds of technology that use unlicensed frequencies, many ISPs who are interested in deploying Wi-Fi hotzones in crowded cities tell me that the current solutions they have looked into, do not adequately address the problem of traffic management and interference. What happens when several thousand people log on at the same time and try to send large files or use the wireless connection to make voice calls? How do you deal with interference from hundreds of hotspots and private Wi-Fi networks?

Although New York is not deploying a network that will be open to the public and the number of people using it will be limited, I believe it’s time to discuss openly the limitations of existing solutions when it comes to crowded cities with lots of buildings. I have received numerous inquiries from people in Asia who are really keen on offering wireless broadband service that provides cheap voice calls and data access. However, finding information that goes beyond the vendors’ own PR is difficult.

So I invite readers to comment on this post and tell us your experiences with different solutions (positive and negative), the type of environment you were trying to deploy them in, and the challenges you faced. I would also welcome general comments on different technologies (mesh, point-to-point, etc.).

New York has been looking at cheap wireless broadband for over a year

As far as I know New York’s is the largest, most complex public safety wireless broadband network I’ve seen in the planning stages. While most cities are still doing downtown hotzones, New York is thinking big.

I wrote a piece on Muniwireless exactly a year ago about New York exploring the creation of a new telecommunications network for the city government with the idea that they would extend it to the general public. I wrote:

This excellent staff report to the New York City Council recommends a sweeping change in the way the city of New York buys and utilizes telecommunications services. More importantly, if New York adopts its recommendations, the city’s agencies, residents, businesses and public organizations could see dramatically cheaper, faster and more efficient telecommunications (data and voice) services.

The report recommends that New York open the competitive bidding process for its annual voice and data (Internet) bill to take advantage of one of the most underused and expansive fiber optic networks in the United States. It also suggests that the city create wireless metropolitan area networks to connect to the fiber backbone, thereby solving the “last mile” problem. In many cities, digging up streets and laying cables to connect homes and businesses to the city’s fiber backbone is prohibitively expensive.

That was a year ago, one of the first articles I wrote for Muniwireless, and now a year later, it seems they are moving in that direction.

Downloads and bedtime reading

You can download the New York City RFP (exciting bedtime reading) from Muniwireless or go to the New York DOITT site. You can also download the report Network NYC: Building the Broadband City (May 2003) in PDF format here.

Wi-Fi Networking News (Glenn Fleishman’s site)


  1. WiFi (i.e. 2.4 GHz) is not the way to go for this. The type of mission critical network that is needed to to provide the emergency and municipal services with the necessary reliabilty cannot be built using this frequency. Add all the current and future 802.1x home & business networks, WISPS, wardrivers, microwave ovens, baby monitors, wireless video transmitters and what-not together and you have a huge source of “noise” that will render such a network undependable.

    A better option would maybe be UWB (UltaWideBand) or the new product current being marketed by LastMileWireless ( in the UK.

    This consists of a high density network of wireless devices that broadcast at 63Ghz a high bandwidth/low range frequency. The device also holds a large memory cache hence limiting the strain on the networks backbone….

  2. Muniwireless says

    Tyler van Houwelingen of Ottawa Wireless, the ISP that runs the Grand Haven wireless broadband network I wrote about recently says this: “Mesh will work OK, it just is very low bandwidth at this point, good for roaming only, but not enough for last mile residential or business access – e.g. it will not replace DSL/cable as we are doing. The boxes are all very much overpriced, making it too costly to use as a CPE as well. Things will change soon that will enhance this a lot. Mutli-channel mesh, wimax, etc. It is high profile as it is NY, but not a great model – yet. To me, it is a shame that they will flood the 2.4 spectrum for only public safety. This should and can be shared as well for public accessusing VLANs.”

  3. To address the comment on Hotzones can’t handle thousands of users: the answer is you are probably correct at this time, but by the time we plan on having 1000’s of users on one section of a hotzone, we will have already upgraded the boxes to newer technology already in our sights. It’s the age-old PC purchase issue, do you wait for the faster chip to come out before you buy? Well you never end up buying a computer. Wi-Fi is a great solution right now and solves many issues, but where it will be in 5 years, no one knows yet. Cities should look beyond the RF, and look at routing protocols and other issues that vendors like Tropos bring to the table, that will not change, but the radios will.

    Just my two cents.

  4. You’re failing to mention a critical aspect of this RFP. The FCC has recently granted the 4.9 GHz spectrum for public safety. Granted 4.9 has issues (radios, mask, etc.), but the SI who can pull this off has a bird in hand.

    2.4 is too dirty and unlicensed spectrum will never meet city requirements, unless it was offered as some type of back-up network in a blended manner.

    EV-DO and other public WWAN technologies cannot be controlled by the city (QoS, SLAs, network management, etc.), and should not be the primary network offered to Gino.

    What the city is asking for is truly a near impossible feat, and the rest of the country is eagerly watching.

    We will see what happens after the proposals are submitted later in July….

  5. My comments are on my blog at

  6. Your all bringing up great points why public safety needs broadband 700 MHz spectrum to build dedicated public safety spectrum. See on their initiative to secure an additional 10 MHz in the 700 MHz band to achieve city-wide broadband coverage. Be wary of any unlicensed (low power) technology that claims a mile coverage radius in non Line of Site conditions. The physics never work out with practical antennas (if mobility is required).

  7. William Burgess says

    Using Wi-Fi in a city like New York won’t provide the tool we realy need. We need wireless broadband to provide the link to make New York one network. Power line communication is the key, moving date at speeds up to 245mbps. The last mile to make any thing wireless in the world, utillizing the existing electrical power grid. It’s a fact that it works, many companies are trying to block it from coming to market. The advantages and alternatives of using this kind of network in New York, will make a lot of tech companies rich. This type of network can allow a wireless infrastructure to operate without interference inside solid structures. Communicates with other devices by using methods like infrared, visible light, laser light, ultraviolet, magnetic, ultrasonic, or sound medium. All I ask is for some one to open their minds and pick the right network.

  8. Check out Eagle Broadband, located in League City, Texas (EAG, Amex)
    Has NLOS broadband satellite telephone communication (SatMAX) using the Iridium Satellite system and recently used at the National Republican Convention.
    Currently doing business with General Dynamics, SAIC, and IBM.