As the state of New York pursued construction of a $2 billion statewide wireless network (SWN) for public safety, one of the most interested observers of the effort was Charles Brennan, deputy secretary of Pennsylvania’s public-safety radio service.

Not only does the state of New York share a border with Pennsylvania, but the two states seemed destined to boast statewide mission-critical communications networks using the same technology and vendor—OpenSky from Tyco Electronics M/A-COM.

But, while visiting New York in November 2007 with two of his supervisors, Brennan said he quickly realized many differences between the approaches the two governmental entities were taking in the deployment of their networks.

There were timing differences. By the time New York awarded the SWN contract to M/A-COM, Pennsylvania already was far along in its deployment.

There were technical differences. Both New York and Pennsylvania were using OpenSky, but the configurations were very different. In particular, New York’s desire to have 256-bit encryption and over-the-air dual authentication to the network created “this big overhead in an RF pipe that was just killing them,” Brennan said.

But the most notable difference between the projects was the relationship between the state governments and M/A-COM, Brennan said. While Pennsylvania and M/A-COM worked closely together, with each side making adjustments for the other as the project evolved, this type of cooperation seemed to be absent in New York, Brennan said.

“It was kind of a bizarre conversation with [SWN officials], because they had a far different view of the project than Pennsylvania did,” he said. “What surprised … us was that there was no connection with the vendor, like, ‘We’re in this together.’ It was more like, ‘It’s not our problem; it’s the vendor’s problem to get this solved.’”

With projects as large as SWN and Pennsylvania’s statewide network, issues inevitably arise that could not be foreseen when the contract was awarded several years before. The confrontational attitude between New York and M/A-COM was not conducive to addressing such occurrences, Brennan said.

“You could almost tell that this project was not getting built, that the relationship wasn’t there,” he said. “If you ever get to the point where you have to go back to the contract and say, ‘This line says you have to do this,’ then you’re in real trouble.”

Last month, the state of New York terminated its contract with M/A-COM, citing the results of multiple failed tests, each of which were conducted after the vendor certified the network as being ready for testing. M/A-COM has indicated it plans to file litigation challenging the termination, claiming that the state used a flawed testing process and simply wanted to escape the $2 billion obligation at a time when the state is facing unprecedented revenue shortfalls.

“The argument that Tyco brings up is that it works here in Pennsylvania, and it does work in Pennsylvania,” Brennan said. “For whatever reason, it didn’t work up there. I wish I could tell you, but I don’t know why it didn’t work up there—or why they say it didn’t work up there.

“Eventually, in whatever lawsuit ensues from all of this, you’re going to find out that not all of the fault lies on Tyco’s side, nor all on New York’s side. It’s probably somewhere in the middle.”

Brennan acknowledged that one reason New York could take such a hard-line stance with M/A-COM is that the contract was structured in a manner that meant New York did not have to invest in the project until it accepted the deployment in the initial buildout area, while Pennsylvania has been paying the vendor for years.

“New York put their toe in the pool and, when they didn’t like what they saw, they drew it out,” Brennan said. “In Pennsylvania, we’ve gone off the diving board, and we have nowhere to go but into the pool.”

But, in Pennsylvania, the network is in use and nearing completion, albeit at a later date and at greater cost than originally anticipated. While Pennsylvania soon hopes to reap the benefits of statewide interoperability between first-responder agencies, New York officials are trying to develop contingency plans that some industry observers believe could be limited by SWN-related litigation.

“What does New York now do?” Brennan said. “If you think about it, you’ve got all these systems that are probably old, and some have to be narrowbanded in less than four years. What’s the Plan B here? Do you go out and replace all of these disparate systems now, so you don’t have any of this interoperability.”

Whatever transpires next, public-safety licensees and vendors throughout the industry will have a watchful eye on the situation, because it may well impact the way future contracts are written.

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