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8/31/2004
03:41 PM
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For GOP, Wireless Is MIA

For their convention, the Republican Party eschewed Wi-Fi wireless networks in favor of 40,000 miles of cables that feed phones, high-speed Internet connections, and broadcast circuits.

NEW YORK (AP) -- The wiring at the Republican National Convention is rich enough to download the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in roughly 30 seconds. More noteworthy, though, is what the gathering lacks: Wi-Fi wireless networks for Internet access.

Max Everett, the convention's infotech director, considered Wi-Fi unproven technology that carries security risks and could interfere with remote-control technologies used by broadcast networks.

So Verizon Communications Inc. returned to the basics with cabling: Some 40,000 miles that snake through Madison Square Garden and the adjacent media center, feeding more than 5,000 phone lines, 300 high-speed Internet connections, and 140 broadcast circuits.

Thin red, orange, blue, and green wires jut out of racks of networking equipment hidden in one makeshift utility closet. Bundles of cables drop from the ceiling into skyboxes used by broadcasters. Wires poke through small holes on the floor of the main convention hall.

Making the wiring fit into the area's tight space required a careful study of the floor plan, said Karen M. Daidone, Verizon's project manager. Technicians will have only three weeks to rip everything out once the convention ends Thursday night.

Verizon's wireless unit, meanwhile, upgraded cellular equipment inside the Garden and throughout midtown Manhattan, including the train tunnels underneath the arena. Much of the equipment will stay afterward.

Verizon Wireless and Nextel Communications Inc. have trucks equipped with cellular transmitters on standby for any emergencies.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is providing free tablet PCs, handhelds, laptops, and printers, as the company did during the Democratic convention.

Compared to four years ago, there's less paper and greater use of computers to hold schedules, speeches, and other details, Everett said. Still, he doesn't want to rely too much on the most advanced technologies.

"The more technology you have out there, the more things that can break," Everett said. "When you're bringing in hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, you just want to make sure things are basic and simple enough so they can just walk in and start working."

Broadcast networks, on the other hand, are more willing to experiment.

CNN ordered microphones and earpieces that are wireless and custom-fitted to each reporter or crew member's ears. Older technologies pick up too much background noise to broadcast extensively from the convention floor, said David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief. CNN also ordered newer wireless cameras.

The increased reliance on wireless does raise the prospect for interference. So last week, broadcasters, law enforcement personnel, and other wireless users turned on their equipment simultaneously at full blast, so adjustments could be made.

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