The NYC Wireless Network (NYCWiN) launched in 2008, more than four years after the RFP was issued, and many had high hopes for the network, which was to be dedicated to one use: public safety. The users of the network were to be the NY Police Department and the NY Fire Department. We wrote about it on MuniWireless in Big Doings in the Big Apple (2008):
“NYCWiN initially will cover about 70 percent of the city’s 322-square-mile expanse, according to CIO Paul Cosgrave, who last week gave a detailed project update to several committees of the New York City Council. Cosgrave told the City Council that the service area will be expanded to 95 percent coverage by the summer, with full coverage by year’s end.”
The project’s rollout was headed by lead contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., utilizing UTMS-based infrastructure from IP Wireless, a subsidiary of NextWave Wireless. The initial 5-year contract was valued at an extraordinary $500 million, with nearly all of it coming from the city itself; part of the initial public safety rollout was funded with $20 million from the Department of Homeland Security. According to the New York Times, the network is “underused and outdated”.
When NYC issued the RFP in 2004 many people told me in private that the project would be a terrible waste of money and that the only beneficiaries would be the systems integrator (Northrop) and the equipment provider (Motorola). Indeed, a commenter to our 2008 article seemed to possess a crystal ball when he wrote on MuniWireless:
“Northrop Grumman is walking on egg shells. The launch is behind schedule and the good old boys from VA have taken over the mgmt of the project. Of the 400 sites that Northrop was supposed to launch only 120 may be lit. There are constant problems with IP wireless equipment and there is low morale w/i NGC. HEADS WILL ROLL. The folks @ DoITT are misrepresenting the truth.”
What was needed was not a dedicated public safety wireless network but a wireless network that could have been used for multiple purposes by all city departments, with excess capacity being leased out to private firms, non-profits and community groups that would provide wireless access to NYC residents and businesses.
NYCWiN is only part of a larger, more ambitious plan called PlanIT to upgrade the city’s IT infrastructure, but delays and cost overruns have made PlanIT a highly controversial issue for the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and recently may have cost the city’s commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), Carole Post, her job even though Ms. Post arrived at the DoITT many years after the project had commenced.
According to the New York Daily News, the city tried to sell the network back to Northrop Grumman last year, but Northrop turned down the generous offer. The city had been trying sell and leaseback the network because it costs $38 million annually to maintain and few police and fire department employees are actually using it. The biggest users are the Dept. of Transportation (for controlling traffic lights) and the Dept. of Environmental Protection (for wireless monitoring of water meters).