Feds accelerate P-25 network
Federal law enforcement bureaus weren’t just sitting on their hands about radio interoperability before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the effort that followed to establish a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with its promise of funding.
Many government entities already had projects under way. One of the biggest, the Integrated Wireless Network, includes law enforcement bureaus within the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Justice.
On Sept. 13, Treasury announced that the two departments had awarded a contract to six land mobile radio manufacturers for subscriber equipment to be used on the network.
Equipment purchased under the contract will include portable and mobile radios, portable repeaters and base stations, encryption key loaders and ancillary support accessories.
The announcement described the contract as “multiple awards of indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts with a combined ceiling amount of $3 billion over a five-year contract life cycle.”
The six companies named to supply Project 25 digital land mobile radio technology are Daniels Electronics, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; Datron World Communications; Vista, Calif., E. F. Johnson Co., Waseca, Minn., M/A-Com, Lowell, Mass.; Motorola, Schaumburg, Ill.: and Thales Communications, Clarksburg, Md.
“An ID-IQ contract is a license to hunt,” said Mike Blincoe, a vice president with the U.S. federal government markets division of Motorola Communications and Electronics. “It identifies vendors who can bid when a purchase proposal is announced.”
Blincoe said that an ID-IQ contract has no spending ceiling, but the government is required to estimate the value of the contract.
James Downes, assistant director of Treasury’s Wireless Programs Office and co-program manager of the Treasury-Justice Joint Program Office, said that the two departments wouldn’t be spending $3 billion on the contract — not for Project 25 subscriber units — but he added that purchasing under the contract is available to other federal agencies. He said that his office already has seen some interest expressed in that regard.
Downes said the IWN would include about 2,500 repeater sites nationwide with as few as two or as many as 20 repeaters per site, depending on the coverage and capacity requirements. The user community will number at least 75,000 subscriber units.
A separate contract will be issued for Project 25-compliant trunked infrastructure and conventional repeaters. Downes said that the Joint Program Office is conducting a pilot test of infrastructure equipment in the Seattle area, representing the first roll out of IWN trunked infrastructure in the Northwest.
Treasury now operates about 1,800 sites, and Justice about 3,600, so IWN represents a consolidation and reduction of sites that Downes said has not yet been fully determined.
The reason is because the initial analysis was department-specific, and the “high-level” design does not address specific site requirements at the zone level.
Additionally, the two departments already use an undetermined number of sites in common, although with separate systems. He said that combining the two departments’ efforts would significantly reduce the number of sites while enhancing coverage “because the sum is better than any one piece.”
IWN will be nationwide in the sense that it will be deployed in a number of cities with federal agency field offices and other required areas, but it will not offer nationwide geographic coverage.
The procurement of radio equipment from six manufacturers under one contract is a dramatic shift for the law enforcement bureaus within Treasury and Justice.
First, many bureaus previously used Motorola as their sole-source supplier. Prior to the availability of Project 25 equipment, only the one manufacturer was offering the encryption capability required by the federal government.
Second, each bureau previously had its own procurement process.
“The consolidated procurement helped each bureau to look at new ways of doing business and to consider what would be cost-efficient and good for all the bureaus, instead of focusing on single bureau activities,” Downes said.
The effort to consolidate the communications systems and the procurement process began in the Treasury Department in September 1998 when Downes was the program manager for the wireless office. He has eight years with Treasury, having begun his work there as a frequency manager, following work with an engineering consulting firm.
Downes also worked for Motorola’s service organization for three years, and spent 23 years in the military in positions involving land mobile radio communications before that.
“Like most of our federal brothers and sisters, Treasury identified Project 25 as our solution to move forward. Our self-imposed mandate within Treasury was to convert to Project 25, because we thought it was the best in the marketplace for interoperability and to establish a competitive marketplace. Those were our two major objectives,” Downes said.
“Since we adopted Project 25 as our standard, anything we do has to be Project 25-compliant with forward and backward compatibility — to a degree,” he said.
A statement issued by Treasury said that the two cabinet departments were taking “another step toward increasing information sharing and synergy between law enforcement components. The standards-based technology will provide improved capabilities for law enforcement officers and agents from different agencies to communicate with each other in the field utilizing compatible land mobile radio subscriber units.”
“The new Project 25 digital technology was specifically designed to improve communications interoperability among different government agencies and will greatly enhance coordination and cooperation among many different branches of law enforcement including ATF, the Customs Service, the Secret Service, INS, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and DEA,” a statement from Treasury’s office of public affairs reads.
“Open lines of communication are vital to tapping into all of the government’s resources when investigating illegal activity and protecting the homeland,” a prepared statement from Treasury Under Secretary for Enforcement Jimmy Gurulé said. “Today’s contract is another step toward increased cooperation and communication between law enforcement components.”
The Project 25 standard activity has been pursued by a partnership among public safety radio users at various levels of government and industry to develop standards, based on user needs, for two-way radio equipment operating at VHF, UHF and higher bands. Project 25 has been adopted as a standard by various federal and state agencies in the procurement of radio equipment.
“The utilization of the standards-based open architecture provided by Project 25 will foster competition among manufacturers of land mobile radio equipment and systems, which should provide additional cost-effective solutions to both Treasury and Justice, as well as other government agencies that utilize this contract vehicle,” the Treasury Department announcement reads.
Making decisions based on what’s proposed (Department of Homeland Security) is one thing. Making decisions based on what’s at hand (NTIA’s Jan. 1, 2005, deadline for narrowband conversion by federal VHF radio systems) is another.
Downes explained that the procurement is part of a project to consolidate various radio systems now operated by various federal law enforcement bureaus into the Integrated Wireless Network intended to upgrade communications and meet the NTIA narrowband conversion mandate. The planned IWN also is in accordance with the Project SafeCom initiative led by FEMA to enhance interoperability among the entire public safety community.
“The most exciting part of the IWN from a management point of view is that we not only brought our bureaus together, but we brought two departments with law enforcement missions together. We overcame some of our political issues for the sake of a common goal. In the long run, consolidation will benefit our law enforcement community, and we’ll give them better communications than ever before. Taxpayer money will be spent smartly and efficiently,” Downes said.
Downes explained that every bureau had been used to having its own radio program and budgets, and did business their own way, doing what was necessary to support their respective bureau requirements. He said it became apparent as federal radio users moved to meet the narrowband mandate and entered the digital environment necessary for encryption that sharing resources and infrastructure made sense.
“The bureaus would say that they lost a certain amount of control, but I think they would admit that the concept of the sum is greater than any one part. They’ve signed up for that as well. With IWN, no one bureau will have less than what they had yesterday, and in most cases, they will have more, with better overage for the most part and enhanced interoperability,” Downes said.
Prior to IWN, the federal law enforcement agencies sometimes shared repeater sites, but they had their own leases. The various agencies had joint frequency management, using NTIA licenses issued to the various agencies.
The narrowband mandate only says federal agencies have to reduce from 25 kHz channels to 12.5 kHz channels. It doesn’t specify analog or digital. But Downes said that the law enforcement community’s need for encryption led to the digital choice, in part because no manufacturer was interested in pursuing what would be required for analog encryption — the DES NIST FIPS standard.
The lack of a suitable analog encryption alternative forced the federal agencies to go digital, but Downes said digital brought other features and enhancements, such as unit identification.
At the same time, the IWN project allows participating agencies to eliminate duplication of effort — “not manpower, because we’re undermanned. But taking advantage of shared resources,” Downes said.
Downes added that, aside from funding, the most challenging aspect of the project is frequency coordination for any new narrowband channels made available in between any adjacent 25 kHz channels when they are converted to the narrower 12.5 kHz bandwidth.
“The narrowbanding is achieved by taking a 25kHz channel and slicing 6.25 kHz off of each side. Then a new 12.5 kHz channel is born in between those previous 25 kHz channels. But 20 years ago, we configured our assignments to avoid adjacent channels to reduce the potential for interference. No one thought about a future narrowbanding mandate. In protecting ourselves then, we created a challenge for ourselves now,” Downes said.
“To use the new 12.5 kHz channel, you find out who occupies the 25 kHz channels on either side of yours and ascertain whether they already made their narrowband transition. The biggest challenge for the frequency management staff in my office coordinating frequencies as we narrowband our channels to find new narrowband channels that we can use,” Downes explained.
Although law enforcement bureaus make use of wireless telephones, including cellular and PCS, Downes said that there are several reasons why the federal government sees enormous value in maintaining a land mobile radio system.
“First, radio has coverage where there isn’t much population, such as remote border areas. The wireless carriers have no coverage there and no reason to build it,” he said.
“Second, in large-scale emergencies, the wireless telephone systems can be damaged, or if they survive, access can be blocked by heavy subscriber use.
“Third, in many situations, we require broadcast capabilities, such as push-to-talk, one-to-many communications with a number of users. Cellular and PCS carriers don’t have that capability, although Nextel and SouthernLinc are two ESMR carriers using IDEN technology that can do it,” Downes said.
“Fourth, communications over cellular, PCS and IDEN depends on the proper functioning of the network infrastructure. With land mobile radio, if you and I are need to talk to each other and we’re close enough, we can have peer-to-peer communications without the network infrastructure — depending on the terrain and the buildings that may be between us,” Downes said.
Downes said that with the NTIA mandate for federal radio users to implement narrowband technology, the IWN will move to a fast track now that the contract has been awarded.
“The mandate read that, by Jan. 1, 2005, all VHF operations need to be working in a narrowband environment. Although we haven’t officially asked for an extension, because of the change in implementation strategy and the partnership between Treasury and Justice, our implementation process will take us beyond the 2005 mandate,” Downes said.
He said that NTIA is measuring how much progress federal agencies have made toward the conversion and evaluating whether they are likely to meet the deadline.
“I can’t speak for NTIA, but we anticipate that there will have to be some provision to carry this process beyond 2005, but I don’t know what such a provision might be or even if there will be one,” Downes said.
Under the NTIA mandate, federal VHF systems that do not meet the 2005 deadline would revert to secondary status, which means they could lose their frequencies to other federal users who might come along with the required narrowband systems. Hardly anyone expects that IWN would be allowed to suffer that fate.
What they can do together
The Integrated Wireless Network will allow Treasury and Justice to:
- improve northern border security.
- reduce the number of infrastructure sites.
- meet OMB’s Project SafeCom interoperability goals.
- install narrowband radios mandated by NTIA.
- eliminate duplicative efforts, most of which they won’t reveal for operational security.
- provide a single-point gateway for state/local interoperable communications with federal law enforcement bureaus.
- purchase equipment on the most favorable terms, reducing taxpayer cost.
Treasury and Justice law enforcement bureaus
The Treasury Department enforces federal laws pertaining to protection of the president of the United States and other designees, as federal laws dealing with counterfeiting, fraud (including credit and debit card fraud), forgery, smuggling, moonshining, explosives and gun law violations, and tax evasion. Treasury agents and officers protect U.S. borders from drug traffickers, smuggling and strive to protect citizens and property from the threat of bombs, arson and gun violence.
Treasury’s law enforcement bureaus include:
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau of Engraving and Printing
U.S. Customs Service
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
U.S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division
U.S. Secret Service
Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
The Justice Department offers protection against criminals and subversion, helps to control the country’s borders, works to ensure healthy competition of business in a free enterprise system, takes steps to safeguard the consumer and plays a role in enforcing drug, immigration and naturalization laws.
The department also plays a role in protecting citizens through its efforts for effective law enforcement, crime prevention, crime detection, and the prosecution and rehabilitation of offenders.
Justice’s law enforcement bureaus include:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Drug Enforcement Administration
Federal Bureau of Prisons
U.S. Marshals Service
Manufacturers speak out
The six manufacturers sharing the contract award had this to say:
“The contract is an endorsement of the Project 25 standard. The standard provides opportunity for competition that will bring prices down. It also provides opportunity for the public safety community to purchase equipment that promotes interoperability among different jurisdictions.”
— James Ridgell, vice president of business development for federal sales at E. F. Johnson Co.
“We contributed engineering and participated in the Project 25 standard development to bring forth contracts such as this where multiple vendors offer equipment on a common air interface. And as a company that sells to military and to public safety, we see the standard as a good bridge between their communications systems.”
— Steve Nichols, manager of Project 25 marketing at Thales Communications
“Our view on interoperability is a little broader than Project 25. There is a good trend from analog to digital, but most users still use analog, and after $3 billion is spent, many analog users will remain. Our Project 25 offering uses an IP format, so we can use our network-based interoperability solution to serve legacy systems.”
— John Vaughan, vice president of wireless systems, M/A-Com
“Standardized communications in all large private land mobile radio systems is desirable for better coordination for internal and external purposes. Coordinating communications between critical industry sectors and public safety has been an illusive goal. Standards will allow a steady migration toward such coordination.”
— Robert Small, vice president of operations at Daniels Electronics
“Having a common, interoperable communications system among our nation’s various law enforcement agencies has never been more important than it is today.”
— Gene Ray, chairman of Datron World Communications’ parent company, Titan
“Interoperability was a word no one understood a year ago. If you see our government moving toward those kinds of solutions, it might add to the confidence that so many people already have in Project 25 and interoperability. If it’s one more example of someone committing to these solutions, it’s a good thing.
— Mike Blincoe, vice president, U.S. Federal Government Markets Division, Motorola Communications and Electronics