The House plans to build a powerful Wi-Fi network for members, staffers and the public to use, but architecture and security could pose challenges for the winning vendor.
The House kicked off the procurement on Dec. 11 to build an advanced Wi-Fi system that operates at the breakneck speed of 600 megabits per second. Current standard Wi-Fi systems which operate at 54 megabits per second.
The Wi-Fi network will serve the internal areas of the Rayburn, Longworth, Cannon and Ford House office buildings, and the House portions of the Capitol, according to the statement of work released by the House Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.
The network will provide Wi-Fi hot spots in committee and ante rooms, as well as common areas for conferences, meetings, banquets and media operations. The House expects the network will require 750 access points and take three years to build.
To provide Internet access to the public and employees, the House asked potential vendors to submit strategies for keeping network traffic separate and securing members' and staffers' information and data.
The House also wants the system to support wireless Voice over Internet Protocol calls and track assets, such as computers equipped with Wi-Fi tags.
Security is a prominent theme in the request for proposals, including the need for intrusion detection systems to ensure unauthorized users cannot gain access to the network, as well as a system to detect phony access points.
The House made it clear it wants the latest technology for its network, a system based on the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard approved by the IEEE standards board in September. The standard calls for a connection speed of 600 megabits per second using multiple antennas on access points, versus one or two for older technology, and data channels which use double the bandwidth of older systems.
David Logan, general manager and chief technology officer for Aruba Networks Government Solutions, said he could not assess the topology or cost of developing the Wi-Fi network until the company's engineers assess the physical environment of the House buildings. The oldest -- the Cannon House Office Building -- dates back more than 100 years.
Wi-Fi does not easily penetrate marble, which is used extensively in the buildings. But the new wireless technology can benefit from multipath signals that bounce off marble walls, Logan said. Aruba recently completed an installation in Iraq that used powerful outdoor access points to penetrate 6 inches of concrete and iron rebar, he added. Aruba plans to bid on the House Wi-Fi network through its system integrator partners, Logan said.
Other challenges await the winning contractor. Any network designed to serve the public must be scalable to accommodate an influx of users at a hearing, said Wade Williamson, director of product management at AirMagnet Inc. The company provides security for the Senate Wi-Fi network, which went into operation in 2005.
Janet Kumpu, president of Fortress Technologies, which sells secure Wi-Fi systems to the Defense Department, said the House's requirements might be suited for larger companies such as Aruba or Cisco Systems. "But if we can see a way to add value, we may bid," she said.
The House scheduled a conference for potential bidders on Dec. 30, with proposals due on Jan. 25, 2010.