Major operational testing of the first portion of the New York Statewide Wireless Network (SWN) has begun and will continue through the end of the month, with the results promising to be closely monitored by state officials and network vendor Tyco Electronics’ M/A-COM.

About 65 users will test all aspects—coverage, voice quality, system integration and other factors—of the initial phase of the SWN in Erie County and Chautauqua County, New York State Office for Technology (OFT) Karl Felsen said during an interview with MRT. The state decided to proceed with the operational test after the OFT’s “friends and family” test of the system during the first half of April yielded encouraging results, he said.

“There were no red flags that would cause us to say, ‘Let’s put off this operational test’ or anything like that,” Felsen said. “What we ran into was a lot of ‘Wows’ in terms of coverage and voice quality. There were some Erie County guys involved, and they said, ‘This is so much better than what we saw last fall.’”

Indeed, several Erie County representatives expressed disappointment with the performance of the system during last fall’s preliminary user test. However, state and M/A-COM officials repeatedly cited the preliminary nature of that test, noting that the network was not fully deployed at the time.

Last month, M/A-COM declared the initial phase complete and ready for testing. Felsen said the system-integration portion of the OFT “friends and family” test revealed an issue regarding a specific type of console, but the matter was resolved prior to the test being finished.

Operational testing in Erie County and Chautauqua County is expected to continue through the end of April. Test results will be evaluated by the OFT and by an independent verification and validation company that could be announced “any day now,” Felsen said.

The New York system has been the subject of controversy for several years, with some critics saying that the OFT should not be the sole judge of whether the M/A-COM-built network meets the state’s requirements. This firm will be given the task of overseeing this month’s user test and independently determining whether M/A-COM has met the terms of its contract with the state.

For M/A-COM and state, the stakes associated with the operational test are high. If the test is deemed a success, the state will begin paying the company on its $2 billion contract, subject to a full-foliage test in June. If the network does not pass the test, the state has the right to end the contract without paying any money to M/A-COM, even though the company already has invested tens of millions of dollars in the buildout and has a $100 million performance bond.

In related news, SWN will receive $61 million in federal interoperability grants to help fund the network. Critics of the SWN program had questioned whether the statewide network met standards necessary to receive federal grant money.

“The federal Department of Homeland Security has signed off on it; in fact, they more than signed off on it, they praised it. And at the heart of our interoperability plan is SWN,” Felsen said. “This is not only the feds endorsing the concept of SWN, but most of those [grant investment justifications] are for localities to buy radios to tie into SWN. [SWN’s federal-grant eligibility] wasn’t a true issue before, but I think it’s an issue that can’t be raised anymore.”