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Down-Home Schools Go High-Tech

Proxim Wireless

Reliable, Cost-Effective Wireless Solution Meets Unique Requirements For Rural School District

If you're looking for a vacation in the outdoors, it's hard to beat Grant County, Oregon. Located about 350 miles east of Portland, Grant County features more than 150,000 acres of wilderness areas and public lands for backpacking, fishing, horseback riding and hunting in the Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman, Ochoco and Umatilla national forests.

While Grant County holds tremendous low-tech appeal for tourists and nature lovers, its remote and mountainous geography pose substantial challenges for installation and reliable operation of wireless technology. This problem is manifest by the lack of adequate bandwidth in the Grant County Educational Service District. Headquartered in the quaint hamlet of John Day, the district serves 1,500 students in five school districts covering 4,400 square miles. The district office itself, like many of its member schools, is situated in a canyon surrounded by mountains that range in elevation from 2,500 to 9,000 feet.

Back in 1994, district officials knew they needed to upgrade technology infrastructure in their 11 schools, as well as their administrative offices. However, the district could in no way afford to hard wire every building, since operating costs for that alone were estimated to run anywhere from $1,400 to $2,200 per month per building. Officials recognized the then-growing trend toward wireless communication and saw the enormous potential of a budding technology called the Internet. They decided to install a 4-megabyte wireless microwave system as a basic infrastructure foundation, beginning with a 100 percent Aironet technology, and later adding additional Cisco Aironet and Proxim Tsunami products.

System modifications continued over the years that built overall capacity to 11 MB, but they never adequately solved the district's IT needs. In late 2003, officials finally decided to install a fully integrated wireless broadband network with 45 MB capacity that connected each building and yielded significantly greater bandwidth than before. As project integrator Don Coffey recalls, Making the decision was the easy part - implementing it in a rural and remote location like this proved to be a real challenge. The first hurdle was just being able to find sites that have a line of sight with each other. It's taken numerous repeater sites to eventually be able to reach just one of the schools. Our district headquarters alone needs five repeater sites to reach a district building in the town of Monument.

In order to gauge feasibility, Coffey's first task was to conduct a site survey and locate suitable sites. From there, he sought permission from private owners to access and install equipment. For this, he worked to create an intergovernmental agency agreement with the United States Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon State Police and various municipalities.

Concurrent with the site survey, Coffey began the process of selecting optimum equipment for the project. Coffey had first worked with Solon, Ohio based Winncom Technologies in 1994 during the district's first foray into wireless technology. That experience prompted him to call on Winncom once again. "Winncom has been tremendously helpful over the last ten years", Coffey said. "I needed their equipment, but I was grateful for their expertise as well. They've always had very qualified people who are willing to go the extra mile and assist us in every way possible. With a project this complex, that's a good feeling." Winncom focuses on distribution of wireless LAN/WAN networking systems, data communications infrastructure products and related software to VARs and system integrators. Winncom also provides a full range of value-added services, including system design, installation, reseller training and certification, and technical support. Through its large network of resellers, Winncom supports a wide range of applications and markets, including wireless local and wide area networking, Internet access, health care, education, the military, industrial automation, data acquisition, and telecommunications, among others. Winncom Technologies has established a reputation as a top-tier supplier of products and services in the wireless data communications industry.

To meet the district's unique needs, Coffey called on Winncom technical specialist Marina Savy for advice in selecting the best possible equipment. Based on a thorough understanding of programmatic requirements, Savy recommended 50 Proxim Tsunami GX 90 microwave units. The Proxim Tsunami GX 90 is a DS-3 capacity, full-duplex point-to-point wireless Ethernet bridge with an innovative split-box design for Enterprise IP and PBX extension and for Internet Service Provider data backhaul. The 5.3 GHz UNII System features low band, A1 channel capabilities. The GX 90 is designed to reduce the expense of extending IP networks and to simplify installation. It provides best-in class system performance with native IP interfaces by eliminating the overhead associated with DS-3-to-Ethernet connections. Because Tsunami bridges operate in license exempt ISM frequency bands, they also can be deployed quickly, thus eliminating the long lead times associated with leasing lines or trenching new fiber optic cable. This is especially useful in network redundancy and contingency planning. "We had used the Tsunami 10s for a backbone in the past, and they were absolutely rock-solid," Coffey said.

"We also got good support on them. Tsunami was bought out by Proxim, but it remained a good solid product, so we went with the newer GX 90s."

With the help of Marina Savy, Coffey also specified 30 Andrew 52 series dual polarized solid dish antennas ranging from 2 to 4 feet. The Andrew 52 series antennas are designed to meet the requirements of the 5 GHz unlicensed bands. These antennas uses proprietary technology to deliver superior electrical performance. Andrew antennas satisfy the widely accepted EIA 195C and 222E standards for electrical, mechanical and structural characteristics. Coffey also specified 10 one-foot Gabriel flat panel antennas specially built for point-to-point and point to-multi point terrestrial microwave applications, along with a host of cables, lighting arrestors and other equipment necessary for the complex installation.

Installation began in late spring 2004 and was expected to be complete by November. Coffey recalled the formidable challenges at the outset: "This was a major system overhaul, because the old equipment consisted of a single 2.4 GHz unit about the size of a cigar box. All of the new equipment consists of two pieces that are rack-mountable, so it's many times the size - plus it's 5.8 GHz. Basically, everything had to be changed in every building and at every repeater site, including a lot of antenna mounts and cables.

Equipment delivery could have proven to be a major headache for Coffey and others had products been shipped from California to Winncom's Solon headquarters, and then back west to Grant County in Oregon. However, Winncom undertook the arduous task of revising shipping schedules contrary to established procedures to allow delivery direct from California to Grant County, effectively bypassing a costly and time-intensive routing to Ohio. "They were really on top of that, and it saved a lot of time and money," Coffey recalled.

Once the system is installed and fully tested, it will provide students with a tremendous amount of bandwidth that they never had before, and it will afford the district an opportunity to implement wireless solutions such as video conferencing, IT telephony and IT sharing. The system's expansion capabilities also enable schools with as few as 50 children to have a DS-3 at their disposal, so limitations only exist in the pipe going from the EST to the outside world.

In reflecting on his experience with Winncom, Coffey was tremendously thankful for the expertise of Savy and others, and the extra effort put forth by the company during each phase of the project. "I was very pleased with what they provided us, and how they approached customer service," said Coffey. "They have very qualified people, and on short notice, they helped us overcome obstacles by getting right in the middle of it and bringing issues to a resolution. I'd definitely call on them again."

About Winncom Technologies Corp.

Winncom Technologies Corp. is a value-added distributor providing Wi-Fi and Broadband Wireless products and services, VoIP, VPN and other wireless networking related products and services to resellers and partners throughout North America and Europe. Winncom has established a reputation as a leader in distributing wireless networking, with highly qualified sales, engineering and technical support personnel focused on these solutions. For more information please visit www.winncom.com or call 888-WINNCOM (888-946-6266) or 440-498-9510.

About Proxim, Inc.

Proxim, Inc. (Nasdaq:PROX), the leader in wireless networking, delivers a complete range of flexible, multi-standard wireless networking solutions for enterprises, service providers, small businesses and homes. With more than 15 years at the forefront of wireless networking innovation and product development, Proxim has solutions that meet the unique needs of every market. Proxim is a member of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance and a Promoter of the Home Radio Frequency Working Group. The company is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., with offices globally. Visit www.proxim.com for more information.