FBI taps Harris for mobile radios

The FBI this month awarded an estimated $105 million contract to Harris Corp. to supply federal agents with mobile radios so that they can share data such as digital fingerprints and criminal records with one another and with other agencies.

The award comes as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies begin migrating their network of land-based mobile radios to a new portion of the spectrum that will provide more channels, making it easier for police officers and local and federal agents to talk with one another and to share information in digital form. The FBI will use the contract to begin to move its land-based mobile radios, installed mostly in agency vehicles, from the 25 KHz portion of the spectrum to the 12.5 KHz portion. The product Harris will provide to the FBI will still allow agents to communicate at 25 KHz, but it is designed for 12.5 KHz. The agency is not required to switch to 12.5 KHz until January 2005, the date set by National Telecommunications and Information Administration regulators in 1993 after they determined that the 25 KHz part of the spectrum was becoming too crowded, said Fred Wentland, NTIA's acting director of plans and policies. Advances in technology permit law enforcers to use radios more easily to share digital data to track down criminals, Wentland said.

Warren Suss, a Jenkintown, Pa.-based telecommunications consultant, said the migration of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to the 12.5 KHz range will offer more radio channels than the 25 KHz portion of the spectrum. But he said each channel will have less bandwidth, meaning a narrower pipeline for transmitting data. However, technological advances such as being able to send a data file over more than one channel should allow law enforcement officials to overcome the bandwidth obstacle, he said. Under the contract, Harris will supply the Seneca Secure Communications System. The system, when coupled with a radio, acts as a processor capable of digitally encrypting radio messages and tracking an agent's location via global positioning. The box will act as the link between an FBI agent's radio and any data devices he might use for crime-solving in the field, from automated fingerprint scanners to verify a suspect's identity to laptops for filing reports. To fulfill the FBI contract, Harris is pairing its Seneca product with Motorola Inc.'s Astro Spectra digital radio. The two companies call the product pairing the Astro Seneca and plan to market it to other federal agencies as well as state and local agencies moving toward 12.5 KHz. "It provides a common standard so that the FBI will be able to better communicate with state and local police," said Robert Gurss, legal counsel to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International Inc.

Harris and Motorola will provide 500 Astro Seneca radios to the agency in the next few months at a price of $4.4 million, said Geno Viviano, vice president of Motorola's U.S. Federal Government Markets Division. But FBI Director Louis Freeh recently testified before congressional appropriations subcommittees that the agency has an additional 12,000 handheld or portable radios that it needs to replace to meet the 12.5 KHz requirement. Moreover, the agency will have to migrate nearly 4,000 leased antenna microwave repeater and antenna sites and data communications links to the new standard, he testified. To begin converting its radio network, the FBI has asked Congress for more than $64 million in fiscal 1999. FBI officials familiar with the radio project could not be reached for comment.


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