DHS wants to 'change the game' on public safety network

Faced with a need to upgrade the department’s aging, stovepiped tactical communications networks while reducing costs, the Homeland Security Department is considering a “game changing approach” by using emerging commercial and public safety networks on a subscription basis.

“Use of a subscription model reduces the ownership and operating costs by sharing the network ownership costs across a wider user base,” DHS said in announcing a program for developing prototype networks.

The DHS Science and Technology Directorate is soliciting proposals from government, private sector and academic research and development facilities for prototype public safety networks. It expects to award up to $8 million to fund developing and testing.

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The Next Generation Tactical Wireless Broadband program envisions a seamless national network of interoperable commercial and public systems that can be leveraged by federal, state and local public safety agencies across the country, including DHS.

The technical goals of the DHS effort are:

• Use of land mobile radio over broadband networks to demonstrate whether current industry solutions can provide low-delay and high-availability services for law enforcement.

• Demonstrate delivery of broadband data and video services to tactical users in the field. Services to be provided include biometric checks, database queries, image and file transfer, location-based services and streaming video.

• Demonstrate the ability to manage and configure devices through the broadband networks, including over-the-air programming, over-the-air rekey, dynamic talk group management, and the ability to push applications and maintain configuration management of both land mobile radios and broadband devices.

• Demonstrate the ability to seamlessly roam from public safety networks, commercial networks and land mobile radio networks.

The program is for development of proof-of-concept systems that can be field tested by DHS. No RFP for acquisition is involved.

“DHS owns, operates and maintains some of the largest tactical communications (TACCOM) infrastructures in the federal government,” DHS said in the announcement. “However, much of the equipment in use has surpassed its expected service life and does not provide sufficient coverage, capacity or encryption to meet DHS mission needs.”

The department wants to expand its tactical infrastructure to a wireless broadband platform that supports voice, video and data in the field, but is challenged by a shortage of VHF spectrum, a lack of interoperability in existing systems, the complexity of end-user devices and high costs for building, maintaining and operating the systems.

“The traditional model of owning and operating multiple private TACCOM systems carries a multi-billion dollar price tag across the department,” DHS said. “This model must give way to a ‘game changing approach’ that allows for cost sharing across a broader user base targeting reduced capital investment and lifecycle costs by leveraging networks owned by others.”

But existing networks still fall short of the envisioned system that will provide simple, interoperable broad service supporting any medium in the field. DHS will fund R&D to create a proof-of-concept model for systems supporting each of the four technical goals, which will be tested in government labs. Those that pass muster will go on to field demonstrations with DHS users.

Testing will use a 700-MHz Public Safety Broadband Demonstration Network built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

DHS is requesting white papers describing proposed R&D programs from interested agencies and organizations by Sept. 7. Those whose papers are deemed of “particular value” to DHS will be invited in October to submit formal proposals, which will be due Nov. 26.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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