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The Future is Wireless, Beginning with Kadena

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-11-23

This article looks at a project underway to link a series of local government offices, using a system that transmits video, voice and data without wires. It could be a model for an interlinked Okinawa in times to come.

“Okinawa is ideal for wireless technology” says Clay Cook of the Vision One company, which has a contract to wirelessly link 20 sites for Kadena Municipality. “The island can be interconnected for one thousandth what it would cost to install cabling”.

The company’s project, which will be completed in mid December, is linking up the City Office, the Post Office, the Fire Station, Community and Day Care Centers. These 20 sites will have about 200 users, giving them instantaneous communication capabilities.

The cost of linking them without wires is a fraction of what a comparable fiber-optic system would take to install and the system allows data, voice and video communication. If only some of these capabilities are required and not others, the system is easily upgradeable after it has been established. “Replacing an antenna is a lot easier than replacing a cable” says Cook.

Although only the Kadena town authorities are going wireless, Vision One believes other municipalities will soon realize its attractions, in addition to the Prefectural government. Eventually the company believes all local government will be interconnected and that the most cost effective system, with the greatest potential for a multiplicity of uses, will be to send the signals through the air, rather than through costly cables.

In a recent survey undertaken by the Okinawa Prefecture Planning and Development Section, the overwhelming majority of those questioned said they wanted access to government services through the internet. They said they wanted to be able to obtain documents such as family register copies, certificates of their personal seals and other papers without visiting the town office. They expressed frustration with the system as it is now, with an excessive amount of time being spent in city and prefecture offices, obtaining physical copies of documents necessary for everything from opening a bank account to renewing a driving license.

The system being installed at Kadena Town offices includes broad-band internet access. With documentation between municipal sites soon able to be accessed instantaneously, it is perhaps only a matter of time before the benefits of paperless communication are extended to the public.

Fifty four percent of Okinawan offices have computers and internet access and 33 percent of Okinawans own a computer, with 20 percent having internet access. The government hopes to build on this foundation and allow Okinawa to move away from its over-reliance on tourism. It would like to see the prefecture transform itself into an Information Technology rich society, with all sorts of multi-media activities generating new revenue.

Vision One thinks its wireless system has potential far beyond allowing local government offices to deal with each other more efficiently. Video, voice and data communications are impinging personal communications too. Cook believes that nowhere is more fascinated with new technological capabilities that can be introduced into everyday life than Japan. An illustration of this is the current craze for cell phones that accept e-mail.

The wireless system would not be economic for individual users to install. But one antenna on an apartment block could feed multiple subscribers. The transmission speed of three megabits per second is considerably faster than conventional or fiber-optic lines can offer.

The Kadena town administration, as an incentive to attract IT businesses like Vision One, offers to pay half their rent - up to $1000 a month for - three years. The company obviously has fruitful relations with its local authority. But it has greater ambitions too and is currently working on its contacts prefecture-wide. “My dream is to wire all of Okinawa”says Cook.

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