Statewide WiMAX in Rhode Island

Posted by Sam Churchill on

A wireless broadband network to cover the entire state of Rhode Island is moving towards the implementation. It’s the first and only state to develop a statewide network through public-private partnership.

Rhode Island, with just over 1,000 square miles, is an interesting place as a proof-of-concept state,” said Saul Kaplan, deputy director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., the agency leading the RI-WINs charge. Two trial networks are currently being established, reports TechWeb. IBM will take a lead in the pilot project.

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 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 estimated infrastructure cost of WiMAX of $14 million would be much less than the estimated $39.9 million it would cost to use cellular technology. The network, which will have speeds over 1 Mbps, will utilize a combination of hotspot, mesh and WiMAX architectures.

The $20 million border-to-border wireless network would allow collaboration between industry, and the public and private sectors. Users would include government agencies, businesses, and education institutions. It is not planned to provide network access for individual consumer usage.

“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.

In related news, a bill passed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives to allow municipalities, where Internet connections are not available, to bond money for broadband infrastructure.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, April 5th, 2006 at 1:53 am .

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