More than a year after winning a hotly contested bid to establish an emergency radio network throughout the state of New York, M/A-COM officials yesterday received official word to proceed with the project.

Believed to be the largest land mobile radio (LMR) deal in the U.S., New York state contracted to pay M/A-COM $2.005 billion over 20 years from funds collected through the state's wireless-communications service surcharge. M/A-COM will be responsible for building, operating and maintaining the statewide wireless network (SWN) that is expected to enhance coverage, functionality and interoperability for public-safety communications.

“Reliable, timely communication is often cited as the number one factor for first responders to effectively answer the call to an emergency,” said New York State Chief Information Officer, James Dillon in a statement. “Across the state, I encourage all local governments to explore the benefits that partnership in this essential project can bring.”

The announcement is a major coup for M/A-COM, which was selected as the prime contractor for the project in April 2004. New York state spokesman Rob Roddy said the fact that it has taken 17 months for the state to give M/A-COM orders to proceed should not be perceived as a negative reflection on the vendor.

“The size of the contract and the importance of the public-safety radio network dictated that everyone wanted to take their time with it,” Roddy said.

John Vaughan, vice president and general manager of M/A-COM's wireless systems business, said company officials would have preferred receiving the go-ahead orders earlier but were “comfortable” with the review process.

“We certainly knew from the beginning that it was going to be a very thorough process,” Vaughan said. “It's actually a good feeling to know that we got the win when there was such thorough due diligence done on our bid.”

M/A-COM was selected as the prime contractor after being judged to have the “most technically and financially superior plan,” according to a state press release. Multiple news reports indicated that M/A-COM's bid was less than half the cost of the proposal made by industry giant Motorola.

The fundamental difference was that Motorola effectively proposed building an entirely new network while the M/A-COM bid called for the state to leverage a great deal of infrastructure from existing radio networks linked by an IP backbone, Vaughan said. While the SWN will include new P25 VHF radios and new OpenSky systems operating at 700 MHz and 800 MHz, it also will support interconnections with legacy systems in the state.

“It's one network, but it's more than one air interface, more than one frequency and more than one technology,” Vaughan said. “Those protocols are not tied together at the air-interface level but at the network level.”

Known as VIDA (voice, interoperability, data and access) M/A-COM's network-centric philosophy has been used in other projects, but none as large as New York.

“New York is one big-ass VIDA,” Vaughan told MRT in August.

The first phase of the deployment will include Erie and Chautauqua counties, according to the state press release. This initial deployment will serve as a testbed to determine the performance, compatibility and interoperability of the various existing radio systems.

If M/A-COM's initial phase meets the state's performance criteria, the vendor will expand the network in phases throughout the state, Vaughan said. The state will not pay M/A-COM for any phase until it passes the performance-testing standard.

Vaughan said this contract language is “pretty unique” but acknowledged that he understands the state's logic.

“What they're saying is, ‘We not going to pay for any piece until it's done and has been tested,’” Vaughan said. “They're buying the whole pizza, but they're paying for it one piece at a time.”

The first significant radio upgrade for most of New York state in 30 years, SWN is scheduled for completion in 2012.

“In the aftermath of numerous natural disasters, emergencies and Sept. 11, as well as the need to plan for future emergencies, the need for a modern emergency radio communications system has become even more acute,” said New York State Police Superintendent Wayne E. Bennett in a statement. “From the standpoint of the State Police, it cannot happen soon enough.”

New York joins Florida and Pennsylvania with statewide M/A-COM communications systems for public safety. Vaughan said the shared border between Pennsylvania and New York would allow public-safety officials from those states to interoperate.

“The idea of regional communication is what everyone wants,” Vaughan said. “We hope other states in the region will give us serious consideration.”

Glenn Bischoff contributed to this story.