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12/16/2009
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Congress Goes Wireless

The House of Representatives is preparing to roll out its wireless network, though the timeline for completion is unclear.

The House of Representatives is finally about to get with the times and will soon install a Wi-Fi network, it announced late last week.

The roll-out will take place over as long as three years, according to a statement of work posted on the Web site of the House's chief administrative officer and a synopsis of the effort posted on federal procurement Web site FedBizOpps. A House spokesman hinted the effort could be completed before then, but declined to give any firm timeline.

Beginning as early as January, the House will create a number of wireless hotspots in cafeterias. Eventually, the 802.11n network will blanket the four House buildings and the U.S. Capitol building, including hearing rooms and members' offices.

The only real wireless access points in the House today, as the statement of work makes clear, are disparate and often member-operated networks, which are unmonitored and may be unsecure. In hearing rooms and across Capitol Hill, visitors, members, and staffers typically rely on spotty 3G signals or suffer without any network access.

Though the House has conducted several Wi-Fi pilots in the last few years, those efforts have never made it out of the pilot stage. In addition to engineering challenges stemming from having a 505,000 square foot, multi-building campus and thick marble walls, one key concern, according to the spokesman, is cybersecurity -- members of Congress and the Congressional IT infrastructure would clearly be prime targets for hackers.

The House will also require the contractor who installs the network to include network management and security tools, provide training, and eventually maintain the network. In terms of security, the House wants the network to be able to locate rogue access points and users.

In looking forward, the House also anticipates using the wireless network for things like voice over WLAN and location-based applications

The wireless network is actually part of a larger trend in the House of Representatives toward centralization of historically decentralized IT resources. For example, server consolidation is another major effort currently underway in an effort to decrease the size and complexity of the House's data center.

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