Police agencies scramble to identify CDPD alternatives

Once the cutting edge in communications, Cellular Digital Packet Data is tottering off the scene and sending state and local law enforcement agencies such as the Yakima County, Wash., Police Department scrambling in search of alternative technology.

'We have to. Our CDPD support is going to be shut off in June 2004,' said George Helton, senior director for Yakima County Technology Services.

Covering 650 square miles, the 4-year-old 802.11b network stretches along a backbone of Aironet access points from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., in what Helton refers to as 'our geographically blessed location: the seven- to 20-mile wide Yakima Valley.'

Find outages

Helton's team is mapping the existing network now. 'We've found if you take your AVL [automobile vehicle location, a radio tracking technology] and turn it around, you can map your network and see where you have outages,' he said.

'We have to decide in the next month if we complete our IEEE 802.11b network or go to General Packet Radio Service,' Helton said.

The proliferation of home wireless networks works against expanding 802.11b use, he said, because of radio noise. As the noise floor goes up, police and others using the technology over long distances see increased interference, he said.

'GPRS' 1.9-GHz wave propagation methods are similar to those of our 2.4-GHz network,' Helton said. 'I think it'll probably act about the same as our 802.11b network.'

Interoperability with other departments is a major consideration, too. The existing network is used by state, county and city police, local drug task forces and federal users, including the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Helton said the county looked at Project 25, the National Communications System's radio interoperability program for first responders. 'But we can't afford it,' he said. 'The cost to Yakima County would be $12 million. So we're going to leverage our existing network.'

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