The Customs Service this month awarded Motorola Inc. a contract to supply radios for voice communications as well as ones that the agency can use to transmit data, such as digital photographs and reports.

The contract, worth an estimated $165 million over five years, will help Customs replace radios that do not work under the new wireless communications standard that federal agencies must adopt. The contract will be open to other federal agencies.

As Customs adopts the new standard and as advances in radio technology make it easier to send data, the Motorola radios should allow Customs officers to share documents and images. Customs agents in the field will be able to receive information more quickly.

"We would think at some point in time we would be able to send fingerprints, photographs and pictures," said George King, chief of very high-frequency engineering at Customs.

"Migrate Up to the Next Level"

King said that although Motorola's new digital land mobile radios (LMRs) will be used primarily for voice communication, the contract can provide in the future products that are more specialized for transmitting data. "They have started on a road...that will allow them to migrate up to the next level," said Jim Vest, the Motorola manager working on the Customs contract.

Customs and other law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, are using contracts similar to the Motorola pact to migrate current networks of land-based mobile radios to a new portion of the spectrum that will provide more channels. In 1993 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration determined that the part of the radio spectrum that agencies use to communicate— at 25 KHz— was becoming too crowded and required agencies to shift to 12.5 KHz by January 2005.

The shift will make it easier for more law enforcement agents— from local police officers to federal agents— to talk to one another and to share information in digital form.

Warren Suss, a telecommunications consultant based in Jenkintown, Pa., said the migration to the 12.5 KHz range will offer more radio channels than the 25 KHz portion of the spectrum, but each channel will have less bandwidth. 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.

The Customs contract also indicates a lack of competition, Suss said. It is the second major law enforcement wireless contract that will help agencies move to the new 12.5 KHz standard, and Motorola is involved in both. The FBI awarded a contract in April to Harris Corp. for an estimated $105 million. But under that contract, Motorola's radios will be coupled with Harris' wireless security products.

"Motorola has pretty well had the market locked up," Suss said.


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