Analysis of Winston-Salem’s unwiring

Interesting. Back in July, they RFP’d for Wireless Winston. Now it seems like it’s a go to unwire the city according to the press release.


Vendors
It seems that Azulstar Networks, Cisco Systems, and IBM were chosen as the vendors. Azulstar is in good company since being in wireless, I personally have never heard of them or their work. I would be curious about their RF expertise, but otherwise it’s just another small vendor. Also would be curious as to why Aruba, or Tropos or any of the other more prominent vendors were not selected or if they even answered the RFP. Cisco and IBM are just full-solution based vendors like Motorola, Symbol, and the other big names but unsure as to what their status in this project is and how much say they’re actually providing or if they’re just the equipment vendors.
Benefits
In their benefits sections, I would definitely agree with the High Priority section. Not exactly sure how much of a disaster response/recovery Winston-Salem would need if law enforcement and response teams aren’t on a separate network as it is, but it’s at least a good bullet point. However, I disagree with the top two bullets for the medium priority.

  • Promote city image/brand
    I don’t think so. A wireless city is so two years ago. You’d be better off with more restaurants and clubs downtown than using wifi for image. Philly and San Fran play it for all its worth and take a look at their image. When you mention those two cities, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t… “oh, they have wifi!”.
  • Streamline interaction between citizens and government
    Uhh. No. How does providing wireless internet help communications between citizens and government? It doesn’t. It’s like saying that if father buys his son an Xbox, then there will be a father-son bond between the two. You’ll probably get a son-Xbox bond. Maybe a father-Xbox-son bond. This is the same, just replace father with government, Xbox with wifi and son for citizens.

Everything else gets thumbs up here.
FAQ
Number 3: What is a Wi-Fi or a Wireless Fidelity system? Misinformation here. There is no such thing as Wireless Fidelity. Popular urban myth that Wi-Fi was named after Hi-Fi in audio. It was actually a branding by Interbrand done for the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Number 8: Wireless broadband can be just as secure as any other type of internet access.
Untrue. WEP can be cracked in a matter of minutes. WPA can also be brute-force cracked, although it takes a bit longer. With wireless, you’re more susceptible to outsiders sniffing the traffic more so than you are with a land-based Internet line. Basically, what this means is that any potential attacker doesn’t need to be on the network itself to perhaps exploit your machine while in a land-based attack, they would have to be connected to the network somehow. Knowledge of this sort is your protection. Encrypt everything and use VPNs when using wireless unless you don’t care about anything you’re sending over the airwaves.
Number 10: Yes. New Orleans is currently using a wi-fi network for both public safety and public access. Miami Beach and other cities are deploying similar, mixed use networks.
Actually, it’s more yes and no. This would depend on the design of the network. You cannot subnet a wireless network like you can with a landbased network and expect to be able to share. There are many more things to take into account such as RF interference, channel usage (of which WiFi only has 11 channels – 3 full channels and 8 half channels) and a whole lot of other things. If there is VoIP traffic, then that would take a lot of bandwidth and quality of service prioritization. If you have a B/G network, and you have B-clients, then the overall B/G network would suffer in bandwidth compared to a full G network. Et cetera. This is not even talking about the fact that WiFi is public spectrum so thereby you are sharing all of your RF with TVs, microwaves, cordless phones, and a bunch of other electronic devices that are all registered under Part 15.
Does WIreless Winston take this into account? Don’t know. But they should. The FAQ itself doesn’t provide these very important answers.
Summary
While WinstonNet has missing or doesn’t provide correct information on WiFi and wireless in certain sections, this is still an exciting venture. I’m happy to see Winston-Salem have such corporate support even this late into the municipality wireless game. Hopefully they (the vendors) hire person(s) that understand RF as in-depth as those of us that have worked in any wireless arena since WiFi installs are not a plug and play. Ever.
Last of all, don’t buy into the sales pitch of executives and management. Request a RF engineer if they don’t provide one. Ask them about spectrum analysis, RF interference, and mix-mode use. Have an independent (either volunteer or hired) that understands wireless networks. I personally would ask a cellular provider to lend one of their RF engineers. Security and wireless are two different ballgames and if public safety is mixed-mode on the network, then to have a security consulting firm such as eEye or LURHQ do an independent network audit or recommend someone if they don’t do it (wireless) themselves. Both of those companies are established and esteemed in the security community although I don’t know of their wireless expertise offhand. Remember that while you now have vendors, you want quality support staff as well.
And good luck with the unwiring.
UPDATE (12:53PM): Both Ed Cone and Jon Lowder weigh in on the same issue.