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Cisco pushes wireless kit for city services

Package of products is designed to help police, other safety officials roam in and out of wireless networks without interruption.

Cisco Systems has assembled a kit of products to help city governments and public safety officials pull together wireless networks.

On Monday, the company announced its "Metropolitan Mobile Network" kit, a package of goods banded together that can be used to build a metropolitan area wireless network. Cisco said the offering will allow police and other safety officials to roam in and out of Wi-Fi and cellular networks without interruption.

The company is using its Aironet 1400 series outdoor wireless bridge to provide a connection using the 802.11a wireless standard for long distances. It's using the Aironet 1300 series outdoor access point and wireless bridge to provide 802.11b and g connections for medium-range distances. Cisco also has added Wi-Fi support to its 3200 mobile routers.

All of the Cisco's metropolitan mobile package are already being shipped. However, the Wi-Fi card that fits into the 3200 mobile router is new to the package. Before integrating Wi-Fi into the router, customers could get access to the wireless network only by connecting the router to a separate device. Cisco has added wireless functionality to other networking products too. It recently announced a new wireless card for the Catalyst 6500 switch.

"Integrating the wireless card into the router is a great fit for the public safety market," said Joel Conover, an analyst with Current Analysis. "In a cop car or fire truck, there are a ton of little communication devices. But this router only takes up an extra 2 or 3 inches, which is a real benefit for them."

The 3200 router looks like three floppy disks stacked on top of each other. The compact device is designed to be used in vehicles for an IP (Internet Protocol) connection. Like the rest of Cisco's router family, it also uses the IOS (Internetwork Operating System). With the Wi-Fi card inserted, it can connect a police cruiser or fire truck back to a wireless access point.

The access points, which generally have a range of a few hundred feet, and bridges, which typically go over much longer distances, can be installed throughout a city, sitting on rooftops or on telephone poles. The mesh of wireless bridges and access points covering the city provide a seamless connection with the wireless routers.

Cisco is already supplying Cook County, Ill., with its metro wireless kit to build a high-speed broadband wireless network. The county needed a network to enhance first responders' capabilities to prepare for and handle emergencies. The network will allow users to share text, image and video information quickly and securely, according to Cisco.

In the United Kingdom, London's Westminster City Council also is using these products. The council hopes that the network will help reduce crime by providing real-time information to police. For example, mug shots of suspected criminals can be easily sent to a police officer sitting in a patrol car.

Cisco is likely bidding on other large projects with this portfolio of products. In New York, the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications has requested proposals from equipment makers to build one of the largest private wireless networks in the world. The city hopes to build a common wireless network for its police and fire departments. Some experts have estimated the cost of the five-year project to be between $500 million and $1 billion. While Cisco has not publicly stated that it is vying for this contract, analysts say it is a perfect fit for the company.

"There's no doubt that this is the type of deployment that Cisco would like to get in on," Conover said. "This fits exactly with their vision, and I'm sure they are working with their partners to get in on this."

The 3200 mobile router with the Wi-Fi card is available now and is priced starting at $3,650. The Aironet 1300 outdoor access point is listed at $1,299, and the Aironet 1400 outdoor wireless bridge is available for $1,499.