MAGIC switch from Motorola could yield public safety network

The Customs Service is working on developing an integrated radio communications network that would allow federal state and local law enforcement officials to communicate easily with one another.The project called Multi-Agency Government Interoperable Communications (MAGIC) would allow Customs to consolidate the network it uses to support radio transmissions. Provided that an upcoming beta test succeeds the system could become part of a national Public Safety Wireless Network being developed by the federal government.New Switch Is KeyAt the heart of MAGIC is a new telecommunications switch that Customs has asked Motorola Inc. to supply under an existing $80 million contract for radio communications. Lou Cegala director of Customs' National Law Enforcement Communications Center Orlando Fla. said the switch which uses frame-relay technology would enable transmissions from a single antenna to be distributed to different users on disparate frequencies. Law enforcement agencies today communicate using one line for each frequency. "I want to have multiple antennas I can control but I can't afford one line for each frequency " Cegala said.Cegala said MAGIC would eliminate the need for users to have multiple radios tuned to different frequencies. Instead agents working on joint operations could choose who they wanted to talk to by pressing a button."There's pretty great inefficiency in every state local and federal agency having their own transmitters and their own receivers " said Warren Suss a Jenkintown Pa. telecommunications consultant.Although frame-relay technology supports voice transmissions Cegala said the switches need to be enhanced so they can deliver transmissions to groups of users rather than discrete addresses used to send data from point to point. Motorola which Customs expects will propose a switch design this month declined to comment. Customs expects to do a beta test with the switch later this year.Terry Hayton co-chairman of the federal Public Safety Wireless Network Program Management Office said MAGIC represents one of many projects that law enforcement agencies will consider for a national wireless network. "It's not the answer for everything " he said. "It can give you some capabilities you don't have now probably and it's a matter of proving whether that's right or not."MAGIC is timely because federal state and local law enforcement agencies are starting to invest in digital communications technology. Officials at all three levels recently agreed on standards for new digital radios that agencies hope to purchase from commercial vendors. Meanwhile public safety agencies at each level of government are researching numerous wireless data transmission applications.A Nationwide Network?The idea for a nationwide public safety network - to include emergency management transportation and other applications in addition to law enforcement - stems from Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review. In his fiscal 1998 budget President Clinton requested $6.1 million for the Secret Service to study possible network architectures for the project as well as additional money for the FBI.Last year an intergovernmental advisory committee endorsed "immediate" action by the federal government to ensure that different agencies will be able to communicate with one another in the future. Among its recommendations the panel said the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration should encourage shared systems among other steps.Hayton said two challenges faced by his office which is to build the network are "the differences in the types of systems and technologies that we're using in our land mobile radio systems and the ability of some agencies to implement new systems.

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