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When Boston's FleetCenter opened its doors Monday to the Democratic National Convention, it was equipped to provide convention delegates and event organizers with a level of wireless-networking capabilities that's unprecedented for major political conventions. The party's 4,500 delegates and alternates have wireless access to the Internet, while party members and event organizers will be able to wirelessly tap into a secure network used to run the show.
"The Democrats decided this would be a wireless convention," says Charlie Palmer, Hewlett-Packard's senior public-sector account manager.
The Democratic National Committee and HP began discussions last spring regarding the use of wireless technology at the convention. The committee decided it wanted standard, off-the-shelf HP hardware and Cisco Systems networking technology combined with more customized software from Microsoft.
The result: HP supplied 231 TC-1100 tablet PCs and 150 model 4350 iPaq handheld computers to go with more than 30 Cisco wireless-access points installed throughout the FleetCenter. HP is lending tablet PCs to each delegation, as well as certain Democratic National Committee workers, to be used to communicate throughout the arena. Each tablet PC runs on a 1-GHz Intel Centrino processor with 512 Mbytes of memory, a 40-Gbyte hard drive, and 802.11b connectivity.
HP is also lending at least two iPaqs to each delegation, one for each of the bloggers they're bringing to the convention. Although handhelds don't at first seem to be the obvious choice for writers, Palmer says Democratic National Committee members chose the 4350 because it's extremely mobile while still featuring a small keypad. Other delegates will use iPaqs for scheduling as well as sending and receiving E-mails. Each iPaq features a 400-MHz processor running on Windows CE or 2003.
HP plans to provide a similar lineup of technology to the Republican National Convention in New York next month.
All of the mobile technology HP supplies to the convention will be donated to Boston-area schools, community centers, and local government institutions, says Gary Fazzino, HP's VP of government and public affairs. This is the same policy HP adopted following the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles and the Republican convention in Philadelphia that year.
While security is a common concern regarding wireless communication, Palmer says he believes a wireless network can be made as secure as a hard-wired network. The key, he says, is the level of data encryption.