New York, M/A-COM await April decision
New York state officials are not pressing the panic button regarding the Statewide Wireless Network being built by M/A-COM, despite reports that raised concerns about network performance following a preliminary test in the western portion of the state.
Multiple media outlets reported that some participants in the test found the M/A-COM system lacking during the recent test conducted in the counties of Erie and Chautauqua, including an indication that the city of Buffalo would pull out of the statewide system because the test went so poorly. But Karl Felsen, a spokesman for the New York state’s office for technology, said state officials anticipated many of the problems and expected M/A-COM to address them by April, when the project’s future will be determined.
“It’s interesting that some articles in the media portrayed it as a ‘failed test,’” Felsen said. “Certainly the test didn’t fail; it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s a test for failures. It’s a test to find gaps — software bugs, interference, coverage gaps, whatever.”
Each of these issues was discovered during the preliminary test, Felsen said. Coverage issues were expected because the network was not fully deployed in Erie and Chautauqua counties at the time of the test. Interference was received from multiple sources, including cellular systems that will be rebanded and a Canadian television station that also is scheduled to move to new frequencies relatively soon, he said.
Myriad software issues were revealed during the test, but those problems apparently have been fixed, Felsen said.
“They have been addressed, according to some beta testing we’ve done in New York City,” he said. “So the software issues should be a thing of the past.”
As for the notion that Buffalo — the second-largest city in the state — was pulling out of the statewide system, Felsen questioned the accuracy of such reports. While Buffalo is not participating in the network as a fully subscribing entity, the city had never planned to do so, he said.
Indeed, M/A-COM spokesperson Victoria Dillon categorized the media reports surrounding the test as a “brouhaha over nothing,” noting that it was a preliminary trial.
“Buffalo has never indicated they wanted to be on the system,” Dillon said. “It’s not like they walked out; they never walked in, so to speak. It was our impression that Buffalo had an interest in having its own system from the get-go.”
Dillon noted that deploying the statewide network has been challenging for M/A-COM, for several reasons. For instance, a state environmental-impact study delayed the commencement of work on the massive project by six months, and the preliminary test zone was moved from one area near the state capital of Albany to two areas on opposite sides of the state — the aforementioned western counties and New York City — which has required an “extraordinary effort” by the vendor, she said.
Dillon said the issues likely received more attention because users were allowed on the system much earlier than normal.
“I think the state did a laudable job in trying to get the users involved as early as possible, but the system was not fully deployed when they were on it, so their experience was not probably what they would have liked,” she said.
Felsen said the state has acknowledged that attempting to conduct initial technical and operational tests at the same time was a mistake. These tests will be conducted separately in future regions.
“One thing we learned was not to do that again — make sure you’ve done the buildout and the technical testing before you do the operational testing,” he said. “You have these technical tests going on, and you’re trying to find out whether you have coverage. That’s a different agenda than your operational people, who want to be testing the usability of the features.”
A second test will be conducted in Erie and Chautauqua counties in February, assuming weather permits M/A-COM to finish its deployment and network tweaks by then, Felsen said.
Following these tests, the state will decide in April whether to accept the networks in these two regions — a choice that effectively will determine whether the state will proceed with the $2 billion project that is scheduled to be completed in 2010, Felsen said.
Felsen said he believes all the problems identified in the preliminary test can be addressed, and noted that M/A-COM has a significant monetary incentive to do so.
“Not only is there no upfront payment to M/A-COM, but there is a performance bond,” Felsen said. “You have to figure that they’ve put tens of millions of dollars into this, and there is a $100 million performance bond. So they are obviously highly motivated to perform. That’s a very nice feature of the contract from the state’s perspective, because it does provide incredibly strong motivation.”