One of the things I love and hate is buying a computer. I love researching all the options, wishing I could afford every one. But I hate actually purchasing the machine, because I know I could get more for my money by just waiting a couple more months.

Most people call this "buyer's remorse." "Angst" might be a better word to describe what I feel in the computer-buying process, for I know I don't like it. Whatever it's called, I can only imagine that it pales in comparison to the decisions facing the designers of today's public-safety data networks, who have a plethora of choices to make in the post-CDPD era.

Certainly making a straightforward step into a carrier-provided platform is an option, with an alphabet soup worth of acronyms to choose from, including EDGE, GPRS, 1XRTT and EV-DO. But an increasing number of government entities are opting to build their own IP-based networks, typically using a proprietary solution from a public-safety vendor or a flavor of the 802.11 standard.

A key reason many entities opt to build their own networks is that commercial networks lack the capacity and redundancy needed to withstand the onslaught of traffic generated during significant emergency incidents -- the moments in which the efficiencies created by a reliable data network would be most valued.

But is this the best time to build a public-safety data network? The wireless data landscape is changing so rapidly -- both in technological options and price points -- that it's often hard to keep up, much less try to predict which technologies will survive and thrive. At least one entity recently told MRT that its data-network RFP was obsolete by the time the lengthy process reached a point for a vendor to be chosen.

This has to be a bothersome to public-safety groups that know they likely will have to live with their decisions for 8-15 years, thanks to the realities of politics and amortization schedules. It's an especially troublesome notion for communications directors that believe commercially immature technologies such as OFDM and WiMax represent the best long-term investment.

In larger cities, Homeland Security pressures and the availability of post 9/11 funding effectively may dictate that data-networking decisions be made in the near term. Outside the top 100 cities, however, communications officials may opt for the larger wireless pipes offered by commercial carriers in the short term while monitoring the wireless-data shakeout that seems inevitable during the next few years -- after which, they'll hope to be more comfortable in placing their long-term bets.

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