Wireless does community service

* Behind-the-scenes municipal applications help urban traffic flow

Sometimes we take for granted critical infrastructures that invisibly chug along, doing their jobs and improving our quality of life. One example is the use of wireless for municipal intelligent transportation systems and related applications.

Such systems are likely to use outdoor WiMAX and Wi-Fi mesh networks coupled with sensors, surveillance cameras, digital signage and even solar power. For example, in Barcelona, Spain, Wi-Fi tags and sensors on dumpsters alert waste management agencies when the dumpsters need emptying. The system saves trucks a trip (and fuel) if a dumpster isn't yet filled at its usual pickup time; it also dispatches a truck if a receptacle needs emptying early. The tags communicate dumpster status to the dispatch system via a Motorola Wi-Fi mesh network.

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Wireless municipal networks also feed other important information to monitoring systems in city agency traffic management centers, send traffic conditions to radio and TV stations, and deliver warning and delay information to motorists via dynamic, digital message signs along the road. Among the information relayed might be whether a traffic light is malfunctioning, traffic congestion levels with alternative routing information, fog density levels, expected travel times and Amber Alerts.

These are among the applications used by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, which all use Proxim Wireless outdoor WiMAX and/or Wi-Fi gear to get the job done.

At INDOT, a combination of unlicensed fixed WiMAX and Wi-Fi equipment from Proxim plus solar power "allows us to go ahead with construction projects while we gather information about traffic constriction" in the area under construction, says Will Wingfield, INDOT IT spokesperson. Installing fiber isn't always an option because of location, distance and cost, he explains, "and unlicensed spectrum makes deployment easy."

Wingfield says that INDOT conducted a 2009 study and found that every dollar spent on intelligent transportation system infrastructure and operations results in about $4.80 in benefits. These benefits include travel-time savings, reduction in crash severity and frequency, fuel savings and carbon emission reductions.

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