Medford donates wireless tech to Ashland

In a neighborly gesture Thursday, the city of Medford donated its retired wireless network equipment to the city of Ashland. The MeshNetwork communications equipment will give Ashland police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city employees a way to file real-time information out in the field.

"This is a great example of collaboration between two municipalities in the valley," said Joseph Franell, Ashland's information technology director. "We are very pleased to see bridges being built with the city of Medford."

Ashland police officers previously used ATT wireless cards to file information when out on calls or patrol, while other remote employees didn't have access to the city's information system in the field.

Medford retired the equipment in favor of Verizon wireless cards, which will cost the city less annually, said Doug Townsend, Medford technology service director.

Ashland asked Medford for the equipment after learning it was no longer in use, Townsend said.

The MeshNetwork will be the primary communication tool for police and fire, Franell said.

Unlike the wireless cards that can lose connectivity in parts of the city where cell phone reception is poor, the MeshNetwork will give Ashland ubiquitous wireless coverage, he said.

Paid for largely by a Homeland Security grant, the 21-square-mile wireless network cost Medford nearly $700,000 in 2003, though the current value is depreciated, said Townsend.

The new Verizon wireless cards Medford is using cost the city about $4,700 per month for 100 employees.

Townsend estimated the city would have had to expand the MeshNetwork each year as the city grew, while Verizon will expand its network without any direct charge to the city. The city also would have to replace about four square miles of the network each year as part of maintenance, a cost of about $400,000 a year, Townsend said.

The donation also allows Medford to avoid disposal costs, he said.

Townsend said less maintenance will be needed when the equipment is used in Ashland because both the town's footprint and its city staff are smaller than Medford's.

"They could keep some equipment on the shelf as spares," he said. "That lengthens the life."

Wireless access to the city of Medford's information system has enhanced customer service in the city, he said.

"Prior to the use of a wireless network, building inspectors in the field completed inspections, then returned to the office at the end of the day to update the city's information system with the results of their inspections," Townsend said. "Customers had to wait until the day following an inspection to obtain these results."

The inspection results are now available within minutes, he said.

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