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August 27, 2005

Cleveland Wireless Solutions: Calling on Mobile IP solutions for Public Transportation

In 1955, Cleveland became the first city in the nation to introduce light rail service from its suburbs to downtown. Today, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is embarking on a major 21st century renovation of one its major downtown arteries, namely the silver line’s $200m Euclid Corridor Project. In a recent major announcement University Circle and the Greater Cleveland Partnership announced more than $20m of transportation related improvements for the university circle area. What possible convergence exists between Cleveland’s Digital City initiative under the leadership of OneCleveland’s community partnership model and the exciting developments in our community’s transportation eco-system.

In a recent blog entry I tried to lay out the case for a metropolitan strategy for wireless in Cleveland. As is the case in the blogshere, the blog was hyperlinked to other blogs and web sites all over the world. In its own small way this blog entry has caused quite the ripple. I’ve had more feedback on this entry with hundreds of emails responding, mostly positively, to my line argument. In short, I argued that notwithstanding the hype, there is no evidence of (private) commercial plans to roll out infrastructure for pervasive and publicly accessible wi-fi in the muni space. The only strategy, I argued, that stands a chance in the near term are variations on OneCleveland’s community model. Major public institutions represent the anchors of a public sector roll out of pervasive and public wi-fi services connected to publicly-owned ultra broadband infrastructure. I have written at length (with Priya Junnar) about the role of universities in helping to reshape the landscape of the urban environment in the 21st century. I also argued in the metropolitan strategy for wireless in Cleveland that the best strategy is a pragmatic strategies that is based on a layered approach to wireless services. In other words, from my point of view, there is no practical value to embracing a wimax or bust strategy or for that matter a wi-fi or nothing else strategy.

Let me provide an example in the area of mobile ip solutions for public transportation. I have been advocating for more than 2 years that Cleveland model for the nation the enterprise deployment of wireless services on its public and private transportation systems. The drivers for such an enterprise roll out are probably obvious; public safety, interactive EMS support, incentives to bring more riders back to the RTA, attracting a new customer base, supporting new programming and services on the RTA through collaboration with content providers like the Cuyahoga and Cleveland public libraries, ideastream, and the region’s museums, education, and public health institutions. And finally, all the new services being delivered on the RTA and CircleLink could well turn into new business service line offerings for entrepreneurial Clevelanders entering the wireless product and services market. Enlightened leaders at the GCRTA, under the capable leadership of Hamid Manteghi have always been supportive. Euclid Corridor project leader Mike Shipper has been equally supportive. University Circle’s CircleLink transportation system has always been interested. In fact, Hamid and I presented a public call for such an engagement in Los Angeles two years ago. Here we are with nearly $250m to rebuild two key axis (Euclid and University Circle) in the City and so far we have no strategy for bringing our transportation systems into an alignment and converged with our wireless strategy for our digital city strategy.

We have been dialogue with senior Cisco officials. Mobile IP solutions are now available for public safety vehicles but so far, nothing that scales and moves forward for light rail and public buses. We’ve looked at point mesh solutions like Firetide for our University CircleLink bus service. The infrastructure overbuild requirements did not work for Case Western Reserve University and OneCleveland (www.onecleveland.org). While there are some promising Wi-Fi solutions from north east Ohio RF specialists like Brian Casto’s ICI MIPTAC, I think the more obvious solution for the next two or three years is the pragmatic solution to work with enlightened wi-fi and mobile cellular carriers to device a solution that demonstrates that wi-fi and cellular can be complimentary infrastructures in the wireless space in the area of public transportation.

I think both the GCRTA, CircleLink, and perhaps major point of entry transportation service providers like Hopkins Airport, stand prepared to prototype the rollout a solution that provides for a wi-fi LAN inside the bus or light rail vehicle, thus providing wireless access to all passengers with wireless devices. Rather than looking for wireless device and wi-fi infrastructure to connect the vehicle fleet to backhaul IP infrastructure as they speed along the highways and major corridors in Cleveland, let’s work with a mobile carrier like Verizon, Alltel, Sprint or Cingular to link the wi-fi LAN inside the buses and Rapid Light Rail to their mobile infrastructure and on to the public internet.

I arrive at Cleveland Hopkins airport. The ride to the rental car station is -- how should I put it diplomatically -- it’s a long way away. If I could open up my notebook and catch up on email, I’d probably be a happier camper. Alternatively, I jump on the RTA red line and head downtown. Wouldn’t it be a great way to attract business riders if the RTA red line (green, blue and now silver) would all be wirelessly enabled. Students and visitors to University Circle would have no problem figuring out how to use wireless access as they ride CircleLink.

OneCleveland and the RTA could either sign a strategic partnership to deliver this solution or we could go out to public tender through an RFP. I have tried to advance this solution with some of the obvious players in the region. I have gotten use to the blank stares or courteous nods and usually a comment like, ‘no solution like this is in our portfolio.’ Of course, there is no such offering. That’s why we are approaching them to be part of the answer in developing a solution here in Cleveland’s Digital City. Well, just last week, Junxion president David Hsiao released the long rumored version 1.1. release of a transportable wireless LAN out in Seattle.

junxion box v11.jpg

The Junxion box is a connectivity bridge between cellular data services and client wireless devices like notebooks, tablets, and pdas. It works very much in the way I describe above.

junxion box model.jpg

Junxion has been on the market with point solutions for about 3 months. You can read about the point solutions http://www.junxion.com/news/testimonials.html through some of their initial prototyping and prospective customers. This disruptive technology solution can be deployed across Cleveland’s digital city effort.

As I have suggested in previous entries, we need to find enlightened business leadership among all the infrastructure layers in our region and “violently agree” not to overbuild infrastructure in order to successfully deploy a sustainable wireless infrastructure. Why don’t we see which of the mobile carriers in town is prepared to put together an enterprise package together to allow us to roll out this service to all of the GCRTA Rapid and Buses along with the University CircleLink and the Hopkins Airport Bus service. I’m sure David Hsiao would be only too interested in a conversation in joining in Cleveland’s well publicized digital city initiative with Intel, Cisco, IBM and others. According to David, both Cingular and Sprint are carrier partners. The little green box that is Junxion is fitted with a standard Cingular or Sprint PC Card modem (Verizon and Alltel solutions also exist) and then easily placed in the public transportation vehicle.

Friends, colleagues, and associated regularly ask what’s next in OneCleveland and the Digital City. I don’t hold any special insights in response to this line inquiry. However, in my view, it is important to remain committed to bringing everyone under the tent and create win-win solutions. A layered approach to wireless services is both pragmatic and the most prudent approach at this juncture. At the same time as we challenge Sprint, Verizon, Cingular, and Alltel to step up and be part of the solution here in Cleveland with innovative technologies like Junxion, we also need to be planning for the next set of developments. The only thing constant in the digital city is change itself. It’s as much an attitude as anything else.

Lev Gonick, Cleveland, Ohio August 27, 2005

Posted by lsg8 at August 27, 2005 10:27 AM and tagged Bytes 

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