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Report Rips Government Wireless Network Effort 54

Posted by Soulskill
from the effort-is-kind-of-a-strong-word-for-it dept.
coondoggie writes with this excerpt from NetworkWorld: "Like a bunch of children in a sandbox unable and perhaps unwilling to share their toys, multiple key government agencies cannot or will not cooperate to build a collaborative wireless network. The Government Accountability Office report (PDF) issued today took aim at the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury which had intended what's known as The Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) to be a joint radio communications system to improve communication among law enforcement agencies. However IWN, which has already cost millions of dollars, is no longer being pursued as a joint development project, the GAO said. By abandoning collaboration on a joint implementation, the departments risk duplication of effort and inefficient use of resources as they continue to invest significant resources in independent solutions. Further, these efforts will not ensure the interoperability needed to serve day-to-day law enforcement operations or a coordinated response to terrorist or other events, the GAO said."
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Report Rips Government Wireless Network Effort

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  • by Shikaku (1129753) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:23PM (#26098349)

    See title. Basically like the GPS, you can access the internet from anywhere using special technology. Security is obviously going to be the biggest issue however.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Samschnooks (1415697)

      See title. Basically like the GPS, you can access the internet from anywhere using special technology. Security is obviously going to be the biggest issue however.

      This is not a technological problem. This is a problem with differing agencies fighting over turf. Agencies, I might add, that are all part of the Executive branch of Government. So, there is also a horrible lack of or incompetent leadership that is allowing this non-sense to happen. Apparently, the leader of this branch of government is out to lunch or just going to let his successor deal with it.

      • That you think the President has absolute control over the alphabet agencies is laughable.
      • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:32PM (#26099367) Homepage

        why the hell do they even need their own wireless network? if Homeland security wants anywhere wireless access, then they'll need to get in line like everyone else. either set up a public wireless broadband network that we can all use or stop whining. if they're worried about security they can use encryption.

        i mean, $195 million and 6 years of work and they still don't have a network up? that's pathetic. that money would have been better spent given to local governments to set up their own municipal wireless networks, which if a Homeland security agent happens to be in range of, they're free to use like everyone else.

        wireless broadband access is already slowly becoming a basic component of public infrastructure. it's something that benefits everyone, and increasingly vital to the technological progress of a society. the task of building such vital communications infrastructure should have been given to a science/technology-oriented government agency--something like Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (which would be more useful than the Homeland Security Department).

        • by Miseph (979059)

          "something like Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (which would be more useful than the Homeland Security Department"

          Because THAT is such a high bar to clear. The only thing the DHS is good (and I use that word loosely) for is cramming the Constitution through a paper shredder and harassing anyone who makes the unforgiveable mistake of saying things on the phone that set off their stupid red flags. We'd be better off with a Bureau of Fluffy Bunnies than that useless heap of shit.

    • by sanpitch (9206) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:34PM (#26098451)

      See title. Basically like the GPS, you can access the internet from anywhere using special technology. Security is obviously going to be the biggest issue however.

      GPS is not a two-way system. It is transmit only, and you need to use some other system to get your data back 'up' to the satellite. This 'uplink' part of a satellite nework requires special antennas or lotsa power; it's not an option.

      • They do make satellite phones, and they don't require a generator and a parabolic dish to use. They do have huge antennas but not out of line given the purpose.

        • by schnell (163007) <<me> <at> <schnell.net>> on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:28PM (#26099679) Homepage

          They do make satellite phones, and they don't require a generator and a parabolic dish to use.

          True, but satellite networks present a lot of problems for networks like this that are used for government public safety/emergencies, such as:

          1. Higher latency than terrestrial radio (GEO satellites have ~500 ms of round trip latency and LEO satellites still have 100+ ms in most systems). Bad for real-time applications and a killer for push-to-talk voice in "shoot or don't shoot" scenarios like this might be used for
          2. With satellite you choose between big (2+ feet) high power (1-4 watt transmitter) dishes that can be used for broadband, or portable/handheld devices that can't squeak out much more than 9.6 kbps data rates
          3. You're talking about $150-$300M per satellite for a private (government only) network ... this is the cost structure that bankrupted Iridium and many other folks as well.

          There are lots of needs in the government emergency network space that make it more complicated and difficult than it seems at first blush ... of course that still doesn't entirely excuse the bungle that was made with IWN, though.

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:38PM (#26098505)
      Satellite internet systems are and have been available to the public. But it is usually used by people who are in rural areas, because of the signal delays (latency) involved. A packet has to get from your computer up to the satellite, relayed back to a ground station where it is put on the Internet, then the returning packets have to go up to the satellite, then back to your computer...

      I worked as a tech in a store that sold some of the first Satellite internet systems. It was broadband... the overall speed was good, and better than dialup (not may people had access to cable internet yet at the time). But that latency was a killer. Type in a URL and hit "go", and you waited. And waited. 3 seconds, 4 seconds, 6 seconds... then WHAM! Your page displayed all at once.

      It works, but it is not ideal.
      • Those first systems did not have uplink. Your outgoing packets went over the phone line. It was only incoming data that went over the satellite.

        However, the newer systems with uplink are not all that much better. The outgoing data rate is certainly faster than the telephone was, but you still have the delays.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darundal (891860)
        Do these agencies need low-latency communications, or just access to the data? From my (in no way involved with any of the agencies) viewpoint, it seems more like simple access to the data is more important than getting it at shockingly quick speeds.
      • by Shikaku (1129753)

        Um... I think that's good enough if it's free in my opinion, like GPS. If you order the equipment, you get free internet for the life of the equipment.

        You can order premium by going for a more land based connection.

      • by Twinbee (767046)
        This 'speed of light' thing really sucks :(
        • Figure up and back, about 25,000 mi. each way (maybe exaggerated), that is still less than 1/3 of a second.

          But once a satellite receives a signal, it gets multiplexed with other data (adding delays), then sent to the ground, demultiplexed (adding delays), converted to internet-ready packets (adding delays), switched onto the internet (adding delays)... then all the same on the way back. And I have probably omitted a few steps.
    • GPS is one way. You could easily set up a "Push" technology. It's the way the Atomic clocks work along with some areas that have weather delivered by a certain frequency.

      Problem is everyone would have to be watching the SAME thing all the time.

      And as far as "Pull" technologies, look how much satellite phones cost.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      1. Expensive as all hell. Check out the pricing on some satellite internet connections. Also take notes of the extreme transfer caps. They make New Zealand internet connections look positively limitless.

      2. Difficult to upgrade/repair/etc. equipment. You try sending a service tech up to fix a broken satellite.

      3. Extremely wide area network (lots of people per satellite), which results in very little bandwidth available per user.

      4. Latency. Even at the speed of light, it takes a long time (computationall

  • From articles I've read in the past, the work is contracted out and so a huge problem was the incompetence of the contractor that won the project that never finished on deadlines and kept milking more and more money. Typical government contract really.
    • by jlarocco (851450)

      No, the problem is that the government is incompetent. Your argument fails because if the government people were competent they would stop using incompetent contractors.

      But I don't think the competence of the contractors even matters. The GAO specifically said the project was failing because the different government agencies weren't cooperating with each other and were duplicating effort. How can you possibly blame that on the contractor(s)?

  • Why not just make a new radio band for a huge peer to peer wifi like system?
  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:42PM (#26098535) Homepage

    When I first heard of the FCC's plans for a free wireless network, I was concerned that the filtering mandate might eventually be applied to adults as well as minors. I was accused of making a "slippery slope" argument, but after reading about other countries expanding their own filtering efforts after initially limiting the filters to illegal content, I am quite convinced that the FCC's plan is a very bad idea indeed. Filtered internet and the potential displacement of commercial alternatives? No thanks. I want my Internet without filters of any kind.

    Let the spectrum go to unlicensed devices and have a network grow organically around that.

    • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:45PM (#26098565) Homepage

      I should at least read the summary before posting, no?

      Apologies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The FCC already has 'filtered' frequencies, that doesn't prevent alternatives to operate nearly everywhere. It's called broadcast TV. It's free. It's limited (4-5 channels per locale). It's filtered (7 words you can't say on TV). You still have 2 Satellite companies and Cable.

      I would STILL pay for cable internet, as would a large portion of who do right now. But free internet would be wonderful for my parents or when I'm on the road. I'm not asking for 10Mb connections to every house, but 512K would be usef

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:53PM (#26098651)

    There is already an interoperable network out there. It is called Amateur Radio. Millions of individuals are able to communicate around the world for recreation and when neccessary under disaster situations. The network can handle voice, image and data communications. Not only that it doesn't cost the goverment a dime.
    The problem with the goverment's effort, is that some salesman from a big corporation tried to sell them a gold plated overly complicated solution.
    A good example is the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Auxiliary relies on amateur radio operators to provide emergency search and rescue support. The goverment's interoperability efforts resulted in regulations that prevented amateur participation unless the operators purchased special (read expensive)radios that supported the non standard specifications endorsed by the goverment.
    The simple solution is for the FCC to define the block of frequencies to be used for interoperable communications. Then the FCC needs to mandate standard comercially available modulation standards and insist that all radios used by the goverment include those frequencies and modes. This is not high technology here. Most of the equipment is available commercially to buisness and amateurs. Once thr frequencies and operating modes are set, the incident commander (or his communications officer) can assign and enforce operating frequencies as needed.

    • by rusty0101 (565565)

      One thing to remember when dealing with Amateur operators is that certain pieces of information, (read Hippa restricted) are not allowed to be transmitted in a manner that leaves that communication open for unauthorized people to monitor. At the same time, Amateur service operators (Hams) are not allowed to use encryption or other means of 'hiding' information in what they communicate on Amateur bands.

      Part of this can be alleviated by authorizing Amateur operators to use frequencies and technology in suppor

  • by spisska (796395) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:06PM (#26098757)

    Wow. I worked on IWN in a very limited capacity for one of the bidders back in early 2005. It was pretty clear then that the whole thing was going to be a huge cluster-fuck, but it was exciting to be a part of it for a while.

    If the process continued the way it was going when I left, it is almost surely the Feds' fault. They were demanding certain requirements that were nearly impossible to engineer and didn't make much sense anyway. And the whole RFP described technology in ways that made it clear that the government folks running it were completely out of touch with the technology.

    Essentially, the Feds wanted a device or devices that were a combination of tricorders, mobile phones, and walkie-talkies, as well as a national network to run them on.

    They envisioned devices and a network that would allow primarily federal agents but also emergency first-responders to call anyone a-la a phone, push-to-talk to anyone a-la a walkie-talkie, take mug shots/scan fingerprints and get an instant identification, and pull whatever data from whatever government sources. Nationally, instantly, wirelessly, seamlessly.

    I was just a lowly proposal writer and I suspected the whole thing was impossible. The engineers I worked with knew it was impossible, but it was really impressive to watch them try to build it anyway.

    For the $10 billion the government was offering, you could understand why.

    The bidder I was contracted to, via a small consultancy, wanted to call their team the National Wireless Alliance, or NWA. We thought that was a pretty ironic name for something to be used by cops. I suggested the Intra-Continental Emergency Telenetwork, or ICE-T. My buddy proposed the Wireless Universal Telephone And Network Group.

    Among the many things I learned was that the government, and the extremely big companies that go for $10B deals with them, are utterly humorless.

    But my hat was and is definitely off to the engineers, who were putting together some really great ideas.

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      why was it impossible? the sending of images, phone, push to talk and data has been around for years - it's called cell technology and i hear it's already in use....

      This sounds like a classic case of reinventing the wheel - if they didn't want to use the existing cell phone network they could just use P25 radio kit that does voice/data and have someone build them a radio handset with built in camera (not easy but certainly possible). P25 is already in use by police fire and ambo's in many states so you cou

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by spisska (796395)

        why was it impossible? the sending of images, phone, push to talk and data has been around for years - it's called cell technology and i hear it's already in use....

        It's not that any one thing they wanted was impossible. It's that doing all of it more or less at once, in the same place, with the same device fitting their size and power requirements, supporting as many simultaneous users per tower, and covering as large an area per tower as they wanted was impossible.

        That's speaking purely about the end-user

        • by timmarhy (659436)
          I know there are serious access control requirements hence i said you'd need some serious backend processing handling all the data requests. granted its stupid to think you could just roll it all out at once - a project like this would have a 5 year roll out plan.

          I can see them demanding impossible radio coverage and battery life - i manage my work places radio equipment, i get drivel like "i can hear my AM radio fine at 20km (from no where), whats wrong with you why can't you make my cell phone work as we

  • Not news. (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by mattwarden (699984)

    When you asked government to take on this project, you asked for bureaucracy, in-fighting, and inefficiency.

  • Management called for instant everything, unlimited bandwidth, universally interoperable devices, handheld portables with infinite range and a long battery life. Then they act disppointed when, $10 billion dollars later, they still got nothin'. It's like those job advertisements asking for "5+ years Vista programming experience." Oh wait, ha ha, those don't exist either!

  • ...I wonder how they expect to secure the Internet [slashdot.org].

  • What an effective government could do with the resources given them is not to be wished. It were better if government were divided and ineffective.
  • God, I love the GAO. No matter how idiotic the federal government gets, the Government Accountability Office is always there to point out the insanity with respectful but absolutely devastating bluntness. Somehow they seem to be immune to the groupthink and pigheadedness that fills the rest of Washington -- and as the government's official internal critics, that's a very good sign.

    I think the existence of the GAO is the surest proof that the U.S. hasn't completely gone down the tubes yet. We won't set of

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