Wireless ushered into war on terrorism

Wireless companies are enlisting in the U.S. war on terrorism, and now that billions of dollars are available for "homeland security," officials are welcoming them into battle.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Wireless companies are enlisting in America's war on terrorism, and now that billions of dollars are available for "homeland security," officials are welcoming them into battle.

Wireless services caught the eye of government officials after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Verizon Wireless quickly set up a mobile wireless network in lower Manhattan after all communications systems were shattered by the World Trade Center collapse. The network enabled rescue workers to keep in contact using mobile phones and wireless Internet access.

Local, state and federal interest in wireless services since then has taken off, officials told attendees at this week's Wireless Communications Association annual symposium.

"Wireless networks have played a big role in helping New York City get back on its feet again," said Mary Ellen Burns, chief of the telecommunications and energy bureau for the New York attorney general's office. She encouraged the attendees to continue to develop diverse, resilient systems.

Wireless companies have already launched several applications aimed at homeland security.

This week, police at Logan International Airport were given handheld devices that carry updated information about terrorism suspects. On Thursday, emergency officials in two Indiana counties flipped the switch on a mobile communications system that allows agents from various local and federal agencies to have wireless access to each other's databases.

One kind of wireless technology, the local area network, is particularly popular with safety officials, said Donald Dickson, president of Market Access, a consulting firm.

The low-cost, easily installed LANs can be set up quickly to "shower" Internet and cellular phone service over an area, allowing anyone within a certain radius to tap into the Internet with a cell phone or a personal digital assistant with a modem.

Dickson said the Department of Defense wants to use LANs to create mobile command centers. The DOD is teaming with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create video surveillance systems that use LANs, which would eliminate the need to connect remote television cameras with wires.

"These cameras can now go anywhere," Dickson said.

"The applications were always there; people already put cameras on vehicles and control the cameras from anywhere," said Patrick Leary, a spokesman for Alvarion, a broadband wireless access equipment maker.

"Now you have the opportunity for these things to be used to help promote homeland security."

Not all technology is being used to its full potential, however.

For example, Siebel Systems in November introduced a product that lets computer networks share information more easily, and could be used to collect data scattered throughout various government agency databases. But laws prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from providing the FBI with taxpayer information without a court order.