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Carlson Wireless Breaks Down Communication Barriers
Carlson Wireless Technologies Inc. (CWT) understands the complex connectivity needs of today’s public safety agencies. For more than a decade, Carlson Wireless has designed and manufactured communications equipment for the rural market. Founder and CEO Jim Carlson invented the Optaphone in 1990, which used radio technology to allow residents who lived beyond the last telephone pole to extend service wirelessly to their homes.
The company, located in Arcata, Calif., serves customers in the telecom, public safety, utility, industrial and enterprise markets. CWT offers a range of products for high-capacity data and voice delivery, including the TrailBlazer™ and Long-Haul™, which operate over microwave frequencies, and the new RuralConnect™ IP, a software defined radio (SDR) that transmits over the recently released “white space” television channels in the VHF/UHF bands.
RuralConnect IP is a breakthrough product for public safety applications in challenging terrain because VHF and UHF signals can penetrate obstacles and therefore do not require line-of-sight between equipment components the way microwave frequencies do.
Public safety entities and government agencies can use the new RuralConnect IP technology for data delivery and monitoring of electrical devices in settings where line of sight is not available. RuralConnect IP’s greatest strength is its signal penetration without the addition of infrastructure, such as mobile command centers in remote areas, mountainous areas or areas that are heavily forested; cameras in county and national parks; management, monitoring and data collection in remote areas.
Based on recent approval of an experimental license, the Yurok Tribe of Northern California is in the midst of installing a RuralConnect IP system now. Soon it will not only serve their Reservation, but the Klamath Fire and Upriver Public Safety entities as well. These agencies will have real Internet access, which is crucial to communications during an emergency when other devices are down and for continuing education.
The RuralConnect IP uses vacant TV frequencies (TV white space) to bring wireless broadband to homes, businesses and municipal sites. VHF/UHF signal penetrates structures and foliage, extends far into valleys and weaves around hills and other barriers that render traditional microwave or Wi-Fi inoperable.
The RuralConnect IP is a software defined radio designed to support access to the recent FCC-approved “Super Wi-Fi” VHF/UHF television bands. These bands have unused spaces between television channels resulting from the 2009 migration from analog to DTV. Recently, the FCC made these gaps available for unlicensed public use.
RuralConnect IP is available in either VHF or UHF bands and offers user-configurable data rates, channel bandwidths and operating frequencies. A wide variety of applications are possible, including broadband wireless Internet access, IP video surveillance, VoIP networks and remote monitoring of equipment. The RuralConnect IP can be used to create point-to-point and point-to-multipoint networks with priorityrouting support for voice, data and video traffic. Ethernet and RS-232 interfaces are available.
The base unit’s Java-based graphic user interface (GUI) provides extensive online diagnostics that can be accessed from any radio in the wireless network or through the Internet for remote management. This powerful tool can be used to detect potential problems before they affect user traffic. User-configurable alarms can send alerts if the fade margin on any link falls below a specified threshold. Missed message and inactivity alarms can also be set to generate alerts automatically.
The Yurok Connect Project
Along the scenic Klamath River in Northern California, the Yurok Tribe is preparing for a new technology that will bring broadband connectivity to homes and businesses that previously may not have even had a working telephone. Their single T1 line could not handle the day-to-day broadband needs of the Reservation, let alone what would be required if a major disaster were to occur on the Reservation. “Remote and sparsely populated, no commercial operation could expect a return on the investment required to build an Internet access system here,” said Jim Norton, Broadband Manager for the Yurok Tribe.
The Yurok Reservation stretches 44 miles along the Klamath and Trinity rivers in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. Internet access on the Reservation has been extremely limited thanks to its rugged terrain and remote location. Mountains and deep river valleys mean that traditional microwave solutions, which require line-of-sight from one end of the link to the other, are not an option.
Now, however, the FCC’s recent decision to allow TV white-space bands to be used for rural connectivity created another option for unconnected residents of the Reservation. Paul Romero, director of the Yurok Tribe’s Information and Technology Department, says this is a great opportunity for the Tribe.
“We believe this new form of broadband will increase Internet coverage above and beyond existing wireless technology and greatly benefit Reservation residents,” Romero said. “The Yurok Tribe’s IT Department is eagerly waiting to test drive our new Carlson Wireless ‘white space’ Internet technology.”
The Tribe will be the first to benefit from the connectivity offered by Carlson’s RuralConnect IP, the TV white-space band device capable of extending broadband service much farther than traditional Wi-Fi signals. The device’s low frequency gives it the ability to transmit even to locations within deep valleys or blocked by trees—a critical requirement of any solution utilized on the Yurok Reservation.
The Tribal network, with its GIS mapping databases and other network services, is currently connected to the main Public Safety office and they share a miniscule Internet connection. The branch offices of Public Safety will have direct access to the Tribal Network, as well as Internet, allowing the Public Safety offices to communicate directly for the first time via a network wholly owned by the Tribe, according to Norton.
Using the same towers, Yurok Tribe is also upgrading their wireless “backbone” system for radio communications. Police, fire and public services of the Yurok Nation, including disaster response teams, will be able to communicate reliably in real time.
The Yurok project is occurring in phases to reach all the population scattered around the 44-mile Reservation. The project is expected to be completed by late summer 2011, but members of the tribe will be getting services far earlier than that. The first access point went inthe first week of February 2012.
Although the RuralConnect IP cannot be sold commercially until the FCC has finalized the process of certifying the TV white-space devices and the database providers that will track them, the Yurok Tribe received an experimental license allowing them to move forward with the installation of their system. It’s a valuable opportunity to demonstrate what TV white-space technology can do for rural areas like the Yurok Reservation.
Another advantage to the RuralConnect IP is that far fewer towers are required than traditional microwave links. Because the signal can penetrate valleys and trees, environmentally or culturally sensitive lands can be left undisturbed, while still falling within the device’s coverage area. In many cases, existing towers can be used, and no new structures need be built at all.
For the Yurok Tribe, this was especially important: The Tribe is under a mandate not to cut down any trees, or even build towers above them except for in a single location. Fortunately, the wide-area coverage provided by the RuralConnect IP means that only three new towers will need to be constructed to cover the Reservation, when added to three existing towers. The unspoiled viewscape, required for the Yurok Tribe’s sacred dances, will remain untouched.
The process of FCC certification has been a long one, but an important milestone was reached when the FCC released an order granting conditional certification to nine database providers in January 2011. Spectrum Bridge Inc., a crucial partner in the process of designing and developing the RuralConnect IP, is one of these.
During the coming months, these nine entities must refine their proposals and prove that their technology will meet the requirements of the TV whitespace geolocation database as outlined by the government. In March, they convened for a workshop and demonstration hosted by the FCC. Following the workshop, applicants who continually met the conditional certification requirements had 45 days to “test-drive” their database technology before being officially sanctioned to certify real-world TV white space devices.
The RuralConnect IP is poised to be the first-to-market TV white space device. “We believe we’ll have a six months or greater lead in the marketplace,” said Carlson Wireless CEO Jim Carlson. Grant funding for this project came from several sources. The primary source is the USDA Rural Utilities Service (USDA-RUS), with additional funding from the California Consumer Protection Foundation, and the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant provided by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, State of California.
Carlson is eagerly following the progress of the Yurok Tribe’s installation of the RuralConnect IP. Carlson Wireless has been working with tribal communities since 1986, with a goal of delivering costeffective voice and data solutions. With the RuralConnect IP ready for FCC certification and the Yurok Tribe installation given the official go-ahead, achieving this goal has never looked more promising.
Alpha tests on June 2 were successful, which means that one of the fi rst Beta links installed will serve the Klamath Fire Station, connecting firefighters to live video training. “These folks are all volunteers,” Norton commented. “They work during the day, and they come in the evening to get training. It works much better if they have a solid connection to the training resources.”
CWT commends the Yurok Tribe for being the first to use a new technology that reuses vacant TV airwaves for broadband. Not only is it a positive proactive step for the Yurok Tribe but also for other tribes around the nation, because it demonstrates how implementing broadband on tribal lands can be funded, deployed and managed.
The Yurok Tribe has a history of collaboration to get things accomplished and to move forward for the benefit of the residents. For example, in the past, they’ve worked with Humboldt State University and other local agencies to collaborate on feasibility studies aimed at getting services into the Reservation. Details of those projects can be found in past issues of the tribal newsletters, Yurok Today. The Yurok community, along with Carlson Wireless, will soon bring its public safety network into the 21st century.
Jennifer Gavigan has been writing about cuttingedge topics in the field of law enforcement for LAW and ORDER for more than eight years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Aug 2011
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