Miss. picks Motorola for new network
The State of Mississippi has signed a multi-year $162 million contract with Motorola to deploy a statewide interoperable emergency communications voice and radio network. As a part of the contract, Motorola will provide three mobile RF Site on Wheels (SOWs) by August to respond to emergencies during the upcoming hurricane season.
“[Deployment of SOWs] is a first step, since we know it will take a while to deploy the statewide system,” said David Litchliter, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services. “We have them strategically close to [the Gulf] area in case of a problem.”
When completed, the Project 25-compliant 700 MHz trunked voice and data system will consist of 135 sites throughout Mississippi providing 97% seamless coverage, but the state will be keeping the portable SOWs available for future contingencies. “We have not decided where they reside,” said Litchliter. “They do require ongoing maintenance. We will keep them centralized in the state so they can be easily deployed in any direction.”
Buildout of the state network will be done in three phases and is anticipated to take six years, but both Litchliter and Motorola would like to accelerate the time table. “The timeline requested by the state wants the network done within six years,” said Bob Schassler, North American vice president of Motorola’s government unit. “We think we can shorten it to four or five years. We’re still finalizing schedules and timelines.”
Under the initial contract, the network will support nearly 6000 subscribers, ranging from the State Highway Patrol to the Mississippi National Guard. With Hurricane Katrina fresh in everyone’s mind timely coordination with the National Guard is considered vital when planning how to respond to future events.
Interoperability with neighboring states as well as providing local jurisdictions affordable access to the statewide network have been key selling points for the new network. Louisiana and Arkansas already have interoperable networks, and Tennessee is expected to put out a request for proposals in the next few months for a statewide system compatible with its neighbors.
“We’re also really trying to get [Mississippi] local governments to leverage our expenditures, our backbone and infrastructure of the network,” said Litchliter. “We feel like we can do that and we can save local governments a significant cost to share infrastructure with the state users. Obviously, everyone on the same system is the ultimate interoperability.”
Governance structures and business models to bring local governments onboard are being developed. Participation by local governments could add up to an additional $40 million of business to the primary contract through equipment purchases. Existing non-P25 networks will be bridged into the system through gateways and a designed emergency channel, so users can access the state network with “the switch of a knob,” said Schassler. The most likely participation model envisions jurisdictions purchasing equipment through the existing contract and simply paying a monthly user fee per radio for access to the state network.
Local law enforcement officials are eager to get on board the new network. “We’re excited about it,” said Ken Winter, executive director of the Mississippi Police Chief’s Association. “It’s literally stepping into the 22nd century for us. It will have a very positive impact on local police and sheriff’s departments, providing a mutual access not only in times of emergency but in everyday operation.” Existing radio networks are so convoluted, said Winter, that they have had situations “where you could sit there and be looking at someone from another jurisdiction, but you couldn’t be talking to them [on the radio].”
Both Winter and Schassler praised the efforts of the state to promote interoperability by bringing together stakeholders, with Schassler singling out Gov. Haley Barbour.
“As we do these networks and systems across the country, the one common denominator that makes the systems successful is that the governor supports it and provides leadership,” said Schassler. “On paper, it makes all the sense in the world for the state to be doing this so you have economies of scale, so you have one larger regional network. It sounds simple, but it is challenging to overcome some of the politics. You have to have the governor step in and take a leadership role.”