The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or NLETS, is upgrading to an IP infrastructure to be provided by Cisco Systems.

Headquartered in Phoenix, the NLETS network lets 18,000 local, state and federal public-safety agencies share mission-critical data. The network is owned and operated by the states, and every public-safety agency in a member state is granted access. Currently, 100 servers — two in each state — connect to routers located in Phoenix via private T-1 lines.

Because a single T-1 line can lease for $1000 or more per month, NLETS sought a less expensive backhaul alternative. In addition, it wanted a fatter pipe, which became necessary after the agency established XML as its data language. Prior to that decision, member agencies determined their own languages, which meant file conversions had to be executed for data to be shared by agencies using disparate languages. While the use of XML eliminated the need for conversions, it created other challenges, said Steve Correll, NLETS' executive director.

“XML packets are much larger,” than packets generated by other languages, Correll said.

Now, as law-enforcement officials become increasingly excited about the possibilities offered by mobile data — from mug shots and rap sheets to video surveillance footage — communications officials at public-safety agencies are being faced with the rapidly growing challenge of how to handle exponentially larger files without choking the network.

In addition, encryption is becoming a greater priority given the sensitive nature of the data, and NLETS wanted to upgrade to encryption levels mandated by the FBI, Correll said, adding that Cisco's platform will enable NLETS to meet each of these goals.

Correll also said Cisco's name recognition and technical support made the company “an obvious choice” from a user's perspective.

“There was a great comfort level,” he said. “I'm certain there were competitors and competitive products we could have brought in that wouldn't have given those people that level of comfort.”

Future plans call for a voice-over-IP (VoIP) application to be added to the network, said Morgan Wright, Cisco industry solution manager heading up the NLETS project and a 17-year law-enforcement veteran and former member of the Kansas State Patrol.

“We see voice as a huge upside for NLETS [and] their ability to start adding multiple forms of communication, so we can get visual communications, voice communications and data communications over the same network,” Wright said, adding the VoIP capability would be piloted in the next few months.