Just west of here, technology professionals and civic leaders will gather today to discuss trends and issues at the Southeast Wireless 2003 conference in Winston-Salem.

They need to look no further than this other corner of the Triad to the city of Greensboro to find one of the best examples of local government utilizing wireless technology in the Southeast.

What began as a cost-reducing project five years ago to improve the work load of building inspectors is now expanding into a city-wide wireless network, streamlining everything from police reports to garbage pickup.

“We’ve aggressively been pursuing wireless since 1998,” says Darryl Jones, director of management information systems for the city of Greensboro. “The goal was to provide the same technology to field personnel that other city employees had in the office.”

Building inspectors were the first to benefit from wireless, Jones says, through a deal the city had with BreezeCom. They were able to drive to a wireless site, download their itinerary, go do the inspections and then return to process the report. The system prevented inspectors from having to go to a central office location and allowed permits to be processed in a more timely manner.

“The wireless network saves everybody a lot of time,” Walter Simmons, codes enforcement manager for Greensboro, said in a statement. “We have calculated that it adds two hours per day per inspector, and we have 32 inspectors. That’s like getting eight new people without paying for them.”

While this system is still in place, the city of Greensboro has upgraded to a contract from Cisco Systems in recent years, including 2,200 Internet protocol (IP) telephones for a converged voice, data and video network.

“There are really two things here,” says Joe Fredosso, director of site operations for Cisco in Research Triangle Park. “First, the city has implemented IP telephony. The second is the wireless implementation.”

More than 40 wireless sites

Initially, Greensboro placed Cisco Aironet 340 series access points at eight sites throughout the city…seven fire departments and one police substation. Today, there are 40 plus sites throughout the city, including libraries and parks, with the goal of expanding the wireless network from the inspections department to the police and other departments.

The police department is first, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice last year that has been extended several times this year. The grant allows for the city to extend fiber cables for more wireless sites. When the system is fully deployed in 2005, officers will be able to file real time police reports at one of 60 sites, with multiple locations in each precinct that are no more than a few miles apart from each other.

Already, the Greensboro Police Mobile Response Team … non-sworn civilian employees who work for the department but are not police officers…wirelessly record general police reports on such events as stolen bikes or car break-ins using Cisco Aironet access points.

The Solid Waste Management Division also will be added to the wireless network in the near future, Jones says, allowing them to use “smart routing” to improve garbage pickup in Greensboro.

“Eventually, we will get some type of device in their trucks so that when they are picking up garbage and we get a call saying they need to visit another area in town, we can send them a message to take another route to pick up in this particular area,” Jones explained. “–We will use a software package that can route the trucks in the most efficient manner to provide timely trash pickup without doing unnecessary backtracking.”

Others to join the network include soil-erosion experts, fire inspectors, and park and street maintenance personnel. Jones says these departments are budgeted for wireless in the next two to three years.

“There are so many people in the field with whom we want to be able to communicate,” Jones says. “–So having a device that ties them back to city hall on a constant basis will make them more informed and more efficient. Wireless is the ideal solution.”

City of Greensboro: www.ci.greensboro.nc.us

Cisco Systems: www.ciscosystems.com