Bob Panoff on Rhode Island’s wireless innovation network applications

In the state of Rhode Island, we are creating a statewide border-to-border broadband wireless network that seeks to break down barriers to innovation, enable cross-industry collaboration, and establish RI as an ideal place to test new business models. It is quite unique and different from the municipal wireless efforts you may have already heard about. In the state of Rhode Island, we are creating a statewide border-to-border broadband wireless network that seeks to break down barriers to innovation, enable cross-industry collaboration, and establish RI as an ideal place to test new business models. It is quite unique and different from the municipal wireless efforts you may have already heard about.

Our program is based upon a private/public partnership called Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Networks – or RI-WINs – and is focused on driving innovation, not solely for providing public services or on free public Internet access. (For more information, refer to the Business Innovation Factory).

The RI-WINs pilot network and applications start in January, and will include a mix of basic applications which benefit wireless immediately from wireless broadband connectivity.

Mobile Higher Education

Brown University participates in the RI Teacher Education Renewal (RITER) project, which intends to enhance subject matter, integrate technology into instruction, and create effective strategies for working with students that are underprivileged, learning English, and/or have disabilities. Wireless access enables teachers and students to take learning beyond the physical classroom and into the real world – making virtual classrooms without walls. Since the desire for education usually begins within the family, we’ve also discussed extending this approach to adult education programs.

State Inspections

The RI Departments of Environmental Management (DEM) and Health (DOH) send underground tank and food facility inspectors throughout the state. These inspectors currently have to travel to their respective headquarters facilities in Providence daily in order to download information onto tablet computers in preparation for scheduled inspections, and then again at day’s end to upload completed inspection reports. Inspectors working in the pilot’s coverage area will have access to the RI-WINs network from the field and will be able to download and upload all information from the inspection site. In addition, the ability to access on-line information remotely will enable them to more efficiently react to changing conditions in the field. Participating inspectors and supervisory personnel will also be able to access the same information and functionality via a Wi-Fi “hotspot” within their headquarters buildings.

IT Field Support

While the CVS headquarters (and information technology staff) is located in Rhode Island, it also has a substantial number of operational and retail locations throughout the state. The pilot application focuses on providing approximately 20 information technology staff members with broadband wireless access to corporate applications and data (project and problem status) from home and in the field. The required functionality involves nomadic, indoor wireless use from laptop PCs, while information technology staff completes project or systems support work from different locations, predominantly during normal business hours. Security and data encryption is provided by CVS’s corporate VPN procedures. The applications to be utilized are mostly data applications such as messaging, dispatch, calendaring, project management, and problem tracking, though best efforts VoIP capabilities will also be available when the laptop is in use.

Rhode Island Port Security Project

Waterborne First Responders will use RI-WINs to establish seamless, discrete and secure broadband wireless communications among waterborne first responders from a number of different agencies. This will allow the distribution and use of sensitive information via four modes of communication: text, voice, data, and video during the course of their daily operations as well as in emergency situations.

As part of the RI-WINs collaboration, partner organizations contribute such things as licensed radio spectrum, roof and tower access, fiber access to the Internet, etc. to the network, enabling them to share benefits derived from a low-cost but high-performance, multipurpose wireless network. Traditionally, most networks are private silos, built for a single purpose. These networks are typically underutilized and lack interoperability, resulting in costly duplication of scarce resources and low network utilization that does not justify the consistent investment to avoid gradual obsolescence. As a collaborative partnership, RI-WINs also provides a neutral forum that aggregates the requirements of multiple organizations and then streamlines the innovative solution implementation by working directly with industry-leading solution partners like IBM. As a result, we have already started to discuss implementing a dizzying array of very exciting and innovative applications in virtual every sector of the state’s economy as soon as the pilot stabilizes.

For example, in healthcare, RI-WINs plans to provide wireless connection to biometrics devices for monitoring the vital signs of remote or isolated patients, and for use by health practitioners during regular visits – with the intention of substituting cost-effective prevention for more expensive and risk-prone after-the-fact treatment. The same approach can be used by first responders in an effort to prevent injury during hazardous duty.

Also, governments represent the largest statewide service organizations with a significant mobile field workforce, geographically distributed assets, widely dispersed enforcement requirements. RI-WINs plans to work with officials to develop geographical information systems which can be accessed from the field in order to accelerate response, alleviate road congestion, and to track, manage, and coordinate personnel and assets deployed in the field.

* * * * *

About the author

When Bob Panoff is not acting as the RI-WINs Program Director, he is the Principal of RPM, a consulting firm that assists organizations throughout the telecommunications value chain on strategic marketing issues. He focuses primarily on competitive strategies within network operator and service provider markets. Prior to founding RPM, he was vice-president of marketing for Excel Switching (1997-98), where he re-focused their marketing strategy, developed a new branding program, and led an international market expansion that helped produce the “most successful IPO of 1997”. Prior to Excel, Bob held senior sales and marketing management positions at NMS, Clinical Data, Solvation, DEC, and Burroughs Corporation. For many years, Bob has been active within a number of industry organizations such as TIA, where he now serves as a board member. This leadership has translated into numerous research projects, speaking engagements, and industry conferences at events like Supercomm. Bob holds a BA (Cum Laude) from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. For more information, refer to


  1. […] Last December 2005, Bob Panoff, the project manager, posted a guest commentary that outlines some of the uses for the statewide network. Please read his commentary here. Download the feasibility study (May 2005) from here. […]