Building inspectors and bylaw enforcement officers in Niagara Falls, Ont., are spending more time out in the community and less at the office doing paperwork, thanks to remote access to city computers over the Rogers Wireless cellular network.

About 15 users, including four bylaw officers and

five building inspectors, can now use all the software to which they have access at the office almost anywhere in the city via Rogers’ General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) network and Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 2003 Terminal Server (WTS) running at City Hall.

“”They use the same programs whether they’re in the office or the vehicle,”” says Steve Norris, the city’s IS manager.

The city already used WTS to support dial-up access to city applications from some remote locations such as small fire stations and give some senior employees home access, Norris says. In the summer of 2002, the city started using Rogers’ GPRS service for wireless access.

Niagara Falls has AirCard 750 wireless cards from Richmond, B.C.-based Sierra Wireless Inc. installed in its Dell notebooks, with external antennas on the vehicles.

Almost all applications available on desktop computers in city offices are available remotely via WTS and GPRS, Norris says. There are a couple of exceptions, such as the computer-aided design system, which would demand too much bandwidth to work effectively over the wireless network.

In general, applications perform well over the relatively small wireless pipe, Norris says. He gives some of the credit to WTS, which minimizes applications’ bandwidth needs. Fast typists sometimes find the display falls a little behind their typing, Norris adds. He hopes that when Rogers introduces the higher-speed EDGE service in the Niagara area some time this year, the delays will disappear entirely.

The city does not use virtual private network (VPN) technology for its wireless connections, a decision Norris says helps ensure good performance. The connections are secure enough without VPN, he says, between the security inherent in GPRS and that of the city’s Novell Inc. network. “”That’s pretty much bulletproof,”” says Norris.

Though building inspectors and bylaw enforcers are the system’s major users today, Norris says other employees can connect using notebooks, and he foresees increased use in time. The city’s fire department is looking into remote access options, he says, and “”I believe this might fit right in with what they want to do.””

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