The Louisiana Army National Guard recently awarded a contract to Crystal City, Va.-based Rivada Networks for an interoperable wireless broadband communications network that leverages existing cellular infrastructure for day-to-day operations but can quickly be made more robust in times of emergency.

For normal voice and data communications, Rivada essentially would act as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) by reselling services provided by Sprint, according to Lt. Col. Ron Johnson of the Louisiana Army National Guard. Roughly 1000 army officers will be issued voice- and data-capable devices, according to Johnson. Among these are 300 recruiters who crisscross the state on a regular basis.

“This is far more than an LMR [land mobile radio] system,” said Bob Duncan, Rivada’s senior vice president for government services. “We can push data to the edge of the network, and from the edge of the network. You know that’s what’s required these days … real data right from the scene.”

The 1000 or so officers who will be issued handsets this month—the system is expected to go live in March—represent the guard’s senior leadership, according to Johnson. As such, they would be deployed in a command-and-control role whenever a major disaster strikes and the guard is called up in response. A major responsibility for Rivada in this deal is to ensure that adequate infrastructure exists for these officers to continue to use the same voice and data devices they use daily, which would be a significant plus, particular in the immediate aftermath of such an event, Johnson said.

“The last thing you want the key leadership to have to do in a crisis situation is all of a sudden change the way they communicate, ” Johnson said. “For instance, Blackberrys—which we use on a daily basis—are a critical way we move data. What Rivada will do is provide assurance we have the connectivity we need.”