A portable one-stop comm shop

The TCS SwiftLink 1400 offers secure connections to a variety of networks

The problem with secure communications is that they're not always around when you need them. This is especially true when you're operating in the field. The nearest secure link could be miles away.

Unless, of course, you have a TeleCommunication Systems SwiftLink 1400. TCS' device can be your communications link whether you need to use a satellite, cell phone network, Ethernet connection or, for that matter, analog phone or wireless connection. And everything fits into a briefcase, runs on batteries and is easy to use.

The SwiftLink 1400 is an all-in-one communications terminal. The device contains modules for Type 1 and commercial encryptions. This briefcase-sized box also includes a phone handset with dial pad, an Ethernet switch, a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) module for connecting to mobile phone networks, an interface for satellite phones, a wireless module and an analog phone module that works with public phone networks or a company's PBX.

If that seems like a lot of functionality to cram into one box, it is. Fortunately, it all works just fine. I daubed on some alligator repellent and headed into the wilds of central Florida with a couple of TCS engineers to test the system.

Out there in the wilderness, the only available communications were via a Motorola satellite phone. That device works well for voice communications, but you must use it outdoors. Once you attach the SwiftLink 1400 to the satellite phone, which has a dedicated interface, it will also support data communications, albeit at the slow rate of 2.4 kilobits/sec.

Once we started heading into the relatively civilized areas near Orlando, the SwiftLink was able to work with a GSM network. We used T-Mobile, but any GSM phone network should work. We found a Borders bookstore and accessed its wireless network, also via T-Mobile. Again, the SwiftLink 1400 worked fine. We noticed that not every wireless hot spot was equally useful. Some apparently required log-on procedures that the SwiftLink 1400 wasn't set up to handle. We later tested the product with a couple of private wireless access points and had no trouble making the communications work.

At the hotel, we needed only a few minutes to confirm that the Ethernet and analog phone connections worked fine. With the Ethernet and wireless connections, the SwiftLink 1400 supported voice over IP without any obvious latency or interference. On the analog phone connection, the built-in handset operates like any other phone, except, of course, that it can be encrypted.

The SwiftLink 1400 does not have a single management interface. The unit's modules come from a variety of sources, including commercial products, and each item uses the management interface that came from its original maker. Unfortunately, the product does not include an integrated management utility.

Overall, the SwiftLink 1400 was easy to use in daily operations. It was portable and worked well during our tests. Some of the communications media were more useful than others, but all of them worked. And that's the real bottom line: The SwiftLink 1400 will work well nearly anywhere worldwide.

Rash is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., who has been covering technology since the late 1970s. He can be reached at wayne@rash.org.

SwiftLink 1400

TeleCommunication Systems
(800) 307-9489
www.telecomsys.com

Features: *****

Management tools: **

Security: *****

Price: ****

Price: The cost of the product starts at $10,000.

Pros: The portable and easy-to-use SwiftLink 1400 provides secure communications almost anywhere using a variety of media.

Cons: It lacks a unified management interface.

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