National police network plans switch to faster speeds

Data-sharing demands fuel move to Multiprotocol Label Switching

The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) provides a backbone for state, local and federal law enforcement agencies around the country to exchange data. That currently is being done over a commercial frame relay service with fractional T1 connections to most states, but NLETS is planning to upgrade its network with Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).

The result should be faster, cheaper connections to support growing demands for connectivity from officers in the field.

NLETS is a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by the 50 U.S. states, and it is used for accessing criminal justice data maintained by those states, as well as the federal government and some foreign countries. With the current frame relay service, the cost of a full T1 connection that can provide about 1.5 megabits/sec is more than $1,500 per line each month. Most members have a 128 kilobits/sec connection.

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That might have sounded fast a decade or so ago when a 56 kilobits/sec dial-up connection was state of the art, but today’s needs have far outpaced available bandwidth. NLETS services have expanded beyond simple driver's license and vehicle registration checks to include more fingerprint traffic, photos and backup for the FBI’s network. The narrowband links also slow down security measures such as using the Advanced Encryption Standard.

Implementing MPLS will let NLETS provide full T1 speeds to its users for about the same price as an existing 128 kilobits/sec line.

MPLS supports multiple services and simplifies traffic management for applications such as voice and video that are sensitive to latency. A few years ago, it was an expensive, leading-edge technology used primarily by large service providers to provision multiple services, but affordable high-performance MPLS routers now are available in a variety of sizes, making the technology practical for other organizations.
The change will require replacing more than 100 Cisco 1700 Series routers now in place, but the new network would enable member-to-member connections without going through the NLETS network operations center in Phoenix, and the use of cellular network cards in the new routers could provide a backup system.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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