Technology often ends up in the most unlikely places. Case in point: Isle, Minn., which recently installed Wi-Fi-enabled laptops in its fleet of two — yes, two — patrol cars. In this edition of MRT, contributing writer Jim Barthold tells how the 700-resident town's police force is using the leading-edge technology — also incorporating a voice-over-IP component — to drive methamphetamine labs out of the surrounding woods. Apparently, meth production has become quite a cottage industry in the region. (Please forgive the pun.)

While the Isle police force leveraged the resources of a fixed wireless provider that wanted to bring high-speed data services to the town's residents, businesses and tourists that flood the area, public-safety organizations in other parts of the country soon will be able to install their own IP-based voice-and-data systems. Senior writer Donny Jackson recently was briefed on a new offering introduced by M/A-COM at IWCE 2004 in Las Vegas called VIDA, which will offer data access at initial speeds of 32 kb/s — but is upgradeable to speeds that could exceed 1 Mb/s in the future — and VoIP services that are free of the latency and sound degradation that have concerned public-safety groups in the past.

In this edition's cover story, Jackson writes about VIDA and the prospects for public safety-grade VoIP. Actually, we've been writing about VoIP a lot lately, and I anticipate we will continue to do so. In the February and March editions, we wrote about mesh networks being installed by some cities that feature a VoIP component. The thinking right now is that off-loading non-critical voice traffic onto a VoIP network can be an effective way to ease the strain on conventional public-safety land mobile radio networks.

But some believe IP will provide the backbone for all voice and data communications in the future. M/A-COM, which has offered a public-safety VoIP service since 1997, apparently believes — by virtue of its introduction of VIDA — that this extends to public safety as well. Given how fast VoIP technologies are evolving, I wouldn't bet against them.