Agriculture signs a deal for digital radios

The Agriculture Department has purchased a digital radio system that will extend communications across a large geographic area and deliver voice over IP, allowing eventually for data applications.

Department officials are still discussing what data applications to use with the voice communications on the intranet backbone, but said they'll make the additions after July, when they expect to install the new digital radio network.

"They haven't thought of what they will do," said Ralph Flora, radio contracts and testing manager for the U.S. Forest Service, which helped USDA forge the $900,000, two-year contract with EF Johnson Co. of Waseca, Minn.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USDA has been looking into radio systems that are compatible with Project 25 standards, making them interoperable regardless of vendor. The department bought 225 EF Johnson 5100 series digital portable radios and 14 VOIP repeaters, three of which it plans to install in USDA headquarters.

"Now they'll have metro area coverage," unlike the previous analog radio system, Flora said, adding that agency security, maintenance and high-level personnel will be the primary users in both day-to-day and emergency situations.

But coverage will eventually be able to stretch even further. "This is a multiple-phase program where we can expand the network to remote buildings outside of D.C.," said Jim Ridgell, vice president of federal business at EF Johnson.

Flora said the Forest Service also plans to move to a Project 25-compatible digital radio system by the end of this fiscal year.

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