Public-safety communications microscope focused on New York
In 11 days, the state of New York will begin testing the first phase of the statewide wireless network (SWN) deployed by Tyco Electronics M/A-COM in counties surrounding the city of Buffalo. M/A-COM officials have certified that the network is ready, but the state emphatically has disagreed with the vendor’s certifications twice before.
Potentially at stake in the testing is a $2 billion contract, the largest LMR deal in U.S. history. If New York doesn’t like what it sees in the next rounds of testing—a system test is scheduled for November, and an operational test with public-safety users is slated for December—the state supposedly can walk away from the contract without paying a dime to M/A-COM.
Of course, it probably wouldn’t be that simple, as you can bet M/A-COM has a team of lawyers ready to contest that notion in court if the state chooses to go that route. With this in mind, nixing M/A-COM as the SWN provider could leave New York without a statewide mission-critical voice network for several more years, as another vendor could not be pursued until the matter is resolved fully.
In other words, both the state and the vendor seem to have ample motive to make this work, but that has not seemed to matter much to date. In fact, the reports from the state and M/A-COM have differed so much at times that it is difficult to believe that they are addressing the same network.
Perhaps this is normal wrangling between vendor and customer regarding performance, just played out on a more public, high-profile stage than normal.
Only time will tell what New York state’s ultimate decision will be, but this process has to be a wakeup call to those wireless operators contemplating making a bid on the 700 MHz D Block spectrum, which the FCC hopes will be paired with public safety’s broadband spectrum to provide the foundation for a shared network that could be used by first-responder agencies.
Regardless what M/A-COM has done in New York, the fact is that the company is an experienced, respected player in the mission-critical communications field. Yet, based on reports to date, M/A-COM has fallen short of satisfying New York state officials, even though it certainly has the monetary incentive to do so.
Given this, one has to wonder whether a commercial network operator bidding on the D Block—none of which would even pretend to claim to provide mission-critical communication—would be able to build and maintain a network that public safety officials would use. Based on the latest FCC proposal, the regulatory standards for the D Block would be much more lax than the standards M/A-COM is required to meet in New York, but that doesn’t mean public safety would relax its standards to subscribe.
Indeed, Jonathan Spanos, director of New York state’s SWN and interoperability programs, said several major cities—New York City, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco and Miami were mentioned—also have indicated that they question whether a public-private shared network would meet their needs.
For this reason, New York state has asked the FCC to let it build a pilot network at 700 MHz to determine the viability of public-safety agencies deploying their own networks on the broadband spectrum currently earmarked for a public-private partnership.
Exactly where these efforts end up is anybody’s guess at the moment, but they are matters that bear watching within the public-safety community. As the famous Frank Sinatra song about New York City states, if you can make there, you can make it anywhere. In many cases, the inverse is also true—if New York doesn’t buy into an endeavor, it’s difficult to create momentum for it in other parts of the nation.
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