You are the CIO of a Federal agency. The year is 2012 and your agency is about to transition to smartphones and smartpads. You have planned the launch meticulously. All known system, security, cultural and legal issues have been addressed. The tablets and phones have been issued and you have given the order to “go mobile!”
Within minutes the telephone calls (irony!) start coming in:
Kelly is doing a presentation that requires a live data.gov feed to her dashboard on her pad and can’t get it to work.
John in Pittsburgh can’t access his e-mail except in the conference room area or if he goes to Starbucks across the street.
The next call is a bad one: Fred, your department head, wants to know why he can’t Facebook chat with his grandkids!
Back to the present day. Agencies just now are grappling with the multi-faceted issues regarding advanced mobility. An oft-overlooked area that needs to be addressed is the Wi-Fi infrastructure.
Why Wi-Fi? Tablets and phones typically don’t have an Ethernet LAN port. Also, tablets typically don’t use cellular service, while smartphones and the iPad have Wi-Fi capability.
Planning for ubiquitous, secure Wi-Fi should be part of any government advanced mobility project.
According to a ComScore report, iPhone users use Wi-Fi for 47.5% of all data; iPad users use it 91.9% of the time.
Cheap, ubiquitous, high speed cellular broadband networks are years away, even as data demands are dramatically increasing. Will the carriers ever catch up? They realize that Wi-Fi is a part of their strategy as they spend billions to upgrade their networks.
Meanwhile, the planning for ubiquitous, secure Wi-Fi should be part of any government advanced mobility project.
The first planning step begins with the questions, “What does my real-estate portfolio look like?” This will have a direct correlation to approximately how many wireless access points (APs) and associated hardware you will have to buy and the labor that it will take to complete the job.
Other questions to ask:
- Do I have workers that work from home?
- Do they work in the field?
- Do I have field offices?
- In my large regional offices, do I have true square-footages?
- Which buildings are old (with possible asbestos or lead issues) and possibly historical? Buildings that are old also tend to have thick, non-penetrating walls that impede Wi-Fi signals and make installation difficult.
At each stage of the project, it will save money and help you develop a realistic and ultimately successful plan is to pilot, pilot, pilot.
The next step is to develop a “wireless assessment team.” This special forces unit should be highly-trained and represent the customer. This team is by far the most critical element and the most associated to the costs and ultimate success of the project.
This team should be prepared to assess every job that has a certain size element. I would also suggest that the wireless assessment team should also be responsible for the management of the installation itself.
The first thing that this wireless assessment team should do is review floor plans and plot possible AP placements before it arrives on site.
Once on site, the assessment would begin using a wireless plotter. This is where the experience of the team is crucial to understand all the construction issues to place the APs in exactly the right spot. Planning an AP isn’t just about coverage, but sometimes proximity to power or the telecom closet. If the team doesn’t specify in enough APs, there can be gaps in coverage.
The biggest, sometimes hidden, issue by far is the over-spec’ing of APs. This happens to a team that is very risk-adverse and doesn’t want to risk a lack of coverage. However, this mentality can easily double the cost of the project.
The next phase is the installation stage. In smaller sites, the wireless assessment team may also do the install itself if it makes sense logistically and economically.
On larger projects, the team typically should be procured locally and preferably have some experience in the building. This will lead to lower costs. Also, if the facility is large enough, more than one local firm should be used as resources in any firm can be very constrained when they receive a large, new project.
One wireless installation I saw featured a company that was so resource-constrained they were advertising jobs on Craigslist for $8.00/per hour. That isn’t the type of technician you want on your government site!
Installation planning is critical. Most installations will have to occur after hours for minimal disruption. Access to work areas can be an issue if coordination is not managed. It isn’t the vendor’s fault if a government person is not available to open up a data closet.
It would be best to have the install group managed by a member of the wireless assessment team. It eliminates “he said/she said” and keeps the continuity between the assessment and installation.
Inevitably, some flexibility will be built into the construction and design process and a few modifications to the plan should be expected.
Finally, the design and installation is complete and the service is installed and it works. An ongoing operation and maintenance plan would need to be enacted to ensure consistent service and quality.
Fast forward to 2012: The aforementioned CIO, having properly prepared the building infrastructure receives the ultimate reward upon cutover…nobody notices. Kelly, John, and Fred can go about their jobs (and sometimes their personal lives!), armed with their new tools that will make them more productive.
Tom Suder is president and co-founder of Mobilegov, co-chair of the Advanced Mobility Working Group at ACT/IAC, and a member of Breaking Gov’s Editorial Advisory Council.