Florida officials seek L3Harris extension of ‘several years’ for statewide LMR network
State of Florida representatives are talking with L3Harris officials about a contract extension of “several years” beyond 2021 for the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) as the state prepares to procure a P25-based network to replace the existing system that utilizes aging EDACS technology.
Patrick Gillespie, deputy secretary of business operations for the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), outlined the situation today during a presentation to board members of the Florida Joint Task Force—the state entity that provides advice about SLERS.
“We continue working with our current vendor, Harris [L3Harris], on renewal, pricing and terms,” Gillespie said during the joint task force conference call. “As we’ve discussed in the past, obviously, we need to continue maintaining the system for several years as we work through a new procurement.”
L3Harris confirmed that extension talks with state officials are ongoing, but the company is not discuss any details about the conversations, an L3Harris spokesperson said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
In the meantime, L3Harris continues to support Florida law-enforcement users, according to the L3Harris spokesperson.
“They are our customers now, so we’re always supporting them however we can,” the spokesperson said.
An extension of the SLERS contract with L3Harris is necessary, because there is no hope of building a new statewide system before the existing agreement expires in June 2021, which is less than 14 months away.
Under the existing SLERS contract, the need for an extension must be provided to L3Harris at least a year in advance, or within the next seven weeks. IWCE’s Urgent Communications has not received answers to questions whether this requires a signed extension contract during this period or merely some sort of verbal or written notification.
The future of the statewide radio network has been in limbo since the beginning of this year, when DMS announced in January that it ended talks with Motorola Solutions—the vendor selected to build a P25 replacement system, known as SLERS II—after the LMR giant declined to sign a contract based on the terms of its bid, according to a state official.
At the time, Florida DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter wrote in a letter to Motorola Solutions that Florida DMS would “move toward the new procurement of a next-generation system.” To date, Florida DMS has not responded to multiple inquiries from IWCE’s Urgent Communications seeking clarification about what technology would be used in a “next-generation system.”
However, the 2021 fiscal year budget approved by the Florida Legislature in March—but still not signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis as he tries to assess the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—includes more than $2.4 million for DMS to renew the current SLERS contract. The budget item also calls on DMS to pursue a resolution to a dispute surrounding access to towers owned by L3Harris, which was one of the problematic issues undermining the Motorola Solutions bid.
If approved, the budget item also provides some guidance about the state’s current vision for SLERS II.
“[DMS] is also directed to procure a business case to evaluate public safety communication solutions in collaboration with the Joint Task Force on State Agency Law Enforcement Communications,” the proposed budget item states. “The business case shall identify solutions that will expand interoperability, improve coverage, enhance audio clarity, identify emerging technology features, and advance public-safety collaboration opportunities.
“[DMS] must release a competitive procurement and, thereafter, issue an award for the replacement of the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System. At a minimum, future services must utilize the industry-standard Project 25 Phase II delivery methodology. The procurement must also consider emerging technologies to enhance interoperability, promote public safety, improve coverage and enhance audio clarity.”
This verbiage has been the subject of some speculation within public-safety-communications circles about the type of system the state would procure for SLERS II.
A P25 Phase II system would meet the budget’s stated criteria “at a minimum,” but many note that P25 is not really a “next-generation system,” could take years to procure and may have the same contractual issues that caused negotiations with Motorola Solutions to fail.
LTE-based technologies like push-to-talk-over cellular (PoC) and mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) services are much newer, provide better audio clarity than LMR systems, and they fit the “next-generation” mold, but they generally are considered unproven in mission-critical, public-safety scenarios.
Another potential option recently noted by industry observers is a hybrid LMR-LTE system that is designed to utilize the best aspects of P25 and LTE technologies. A form of this hybrid approach is being pursued in Mono County, Calif., where officials are seeking to develop a system that leverages integrated P25 radio and LTE push-to-talk service that operates on the FirstNet system that provides priority and preemption to public-safety users.
In the case of Mono County, the LTE push-to-talk technology being considered is the over-the-top BeOn application from L3Harris. BeOn was created initially to let users emulate the P25 experience over broadband connectivity. To date, officials for the state of Florida, L3Harris and others have not responded to questions from IWCE’s Urgent Communications whether BeOn push-to-talk service would meet the criteria of utilizing “the industry-standard Project 25 Phase II delivery methodology” cited in the proposed Florida state budget item.
While state officials determine their next steps in pursuit of SLERS II, state agencies that use SLERS for primary communications remain unsure about how they should prepare their next communications budgets, according to Col. Gene Spaulding, chairman of the Florida Joint Task Force board and director of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP).
“At what point are the agencies going to know what they need to do this [budget] cycle—not necessarily to buy new radios but to procure maintenance, upgrades and anything else we need?” Spaulding said during today’s joint-task-force meeting. “At what point is DMS going to be able to give us any kind of idea what that’s going to look like?”
Gillespie advised that agencies utilizing SLERS should continue to make normal budget preparations and that DMS would inform them about maintenance information as soon as it is available.
Spaulding, who expressed a similar sentiment about agencies needing SLERS budget clarity earlier this year, expressed understanding about the challenges facing DMS amid an uncertain budget situation but also underlined the urgency of the situation.
“We know DMS is working very diligently,” Spaulding said. “We’re just all very concerned. I know you guys are doing the best you can possibly do, based on the circumstances. But, at the end of the day, we need to make sure that our officers are taken care of on July 1, when they get on the radio and need to be able to talk.”