Wireless Metropolis

The Big Apple's wireless backup project aims to keep the city online, no matter what.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Lower Manhattan is one of the most wired places on the planet, but it came unwired in the 9/11 attack. Now, the state of New York is planning an inexpensive wireless backup system that will keep data flowing through the city, come what may-a boon to small and midsize firms, and a move that's sure to be watched by other major cities.

The project will tap advances in wireless communication technology, explains Andrew Flamm, assistant vice president for economic development at the Alliance for Downtown New York, a nonprofit association working to create a wired community in New York City. About half a dozen wireless hubs will be set up on the roofs of the area's tallest buildings. Each company (or all the tenants in a building, if the landlord offers this as a service) will connect wirelessly to one or more of these hubs. The hubs in turn will establish high-speed links with two major Internet access centers, at least one of which is outside of Manhattan.

The Alliance hopes to complete the system within a year. Total cost to outfit the hubs and Internet access centers is estimated at $10 million-pocket change compared to the billions of dollars now being spent on rebuilding the area. In addition, each firm must pony up for its own wireless equipment, with a typical price tag of $10,000 and up, depending on the bandwidth needed, Silbert says. The project is evaluating various wireless technologies-"there always seems to be a new one out there that's raising the bar," he remarks. The backup system will defend against the effects of terrorist attacks, equipment failures, hurricanes, careless backhoe operators, and all the other troubles that beset networks.

Major corporations in the area have already made serious investments in wireless links. "Today, few, if any, Fortune 500 companies will occupy space without a wireless backup to their land-based telecom services," notes a proposal for the wireless redundancy system, drafted in part by the Alliance. According to the proposal, a system open to all firms "will make it easier for small businesses to begin and continue operations in the area."

Wireless systems are easily installed and upgraded, Silbert emphasizes. "That's unlike putting fiber in the ground-you have to build that before people want it or rip up the streets again when you need more capacity."

In a dense area like Lower Manhattan, wireless is also highly cost-effective, notes Phil Marshall, analyst for The Yankee Group, a communications and networking research and consulting firm in Boston. Says Marshall, "You'd expect this type of system to be deployed over the next couple of years in all the major metropolitan areas."

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