VARs with wireless expertise have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on providing new wide-area communications networks for municipal agencies during the next nine months: AT&T Wireless is phasing out its Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) network by next June, and the carrier wants to convert its CDPD customers to a higher-priced alternative, its General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) network. So enterprising VARs will be seeking out vendor partners that can fill the gap with more popularly priced alternatives to provide services to police, fire and other public agencies. That will enable those agencies to communicate with local officers and personnel at the scene of various emergencies, as well as deal with normal day-to-day operations with field agents.
MeshNetworks is one such vendor.
"Lots of municipalities are freaking out because CDPD is shutting down," says Rick Rotondo, vice president of technical marketing at MeshNetworks, Maitland, Fla.
But AT&T's GPRS network has neither the bandwidth nor the coverage that the older cellular networks have, making its utility for public-safety purposes questionable.
Enter MeshNetworks, which develops its own wide-area networking gear and has partnered with IBM Global Services and others to sell its CDPD replacement to municipalities. The technology behind the company is advanced, using self-healing and self-extending concepts to create peer-to-peer networks that are assembled on the fly.
"Think of a swarm of bees," Rotondo says. "We have distributed intelligence with no central point of failure. If you lose a node, the others can fill in the gap."
Using MeshNetworks' technology to run public-safety applications has several advantages over CDPD networks. For one, it offers faster throughput. CDPD struggled to deliver more than 10 Kbps,less than most dial-up modems today, while MeshNetworks can keep pace with 400 Mbps and go even higher.
Just as important is its cost; CDPD customers leased time on the network, paying AT&T monthly access and usage fees similar to those cellular customers pay. MeshNetworks' customers, however, set up their own private networks that are not dependent on any third-party carrier. This means municipal agencies can eliminate their monthly network fees.
Additionally, "municipal governments have access to grant funds from the federal government to pay for capital improvements, and our gear can qualify for these grants," Rotondo says. "We'll even help our VARs with writing the grant proposals. There is a lot of money to be had right now."
MeshNetworks is working with VAR IBM Global Services' wireless and e-business services group, which helped complete the company's first deal with the Orange County, Fla., fire department (in the Orlando area).
"Mesh sells the hardware, [and] we provide the computing power to take information from the sensors and other network nodes and translate that data into meaningful reports," says Jan Walbridge, a spokesperson for IBM Global Services.
IBM is happy with the MeshNetworks partnership and is already working on other engagements. "The idea of a mesh network is appealing,the more users you have, the stronger the network is," Walbridge says. "This makes it ideal for fire and police departments and in other public services such as transportation."
It is a nice engagement for VARs willing to understand MeshNetworks' technology and locate the right people within local governments to buy it.