Wireless program gets new life

May 2001 NWCIP presentation

The Bush administration's focus on homeland security has revitalized an intergovernmental wireless program designed to enhance communications among first responders, and now the General Services Administration is stepping in to help.

The National Wireless Communications Infrastructure Program (NWCIP) aims to provide interoperability among the many land mobile radio systems used by the Defense Department and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

NWCIP, conceived several years ago, was placed on a fast track after it gained the attention of the Office of Homeland Security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Now GSA's Federal Technology Service is helping vendors on its FTS 2001 long-distance telecommunications contract modify their offerings to meet the needs of NWCIP, FTS Commissioner Sandy Bates said April 16 at the FTS Network Services Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Sprint and WorldCom Inc., the two primary vendors on FTS 2001, are in the final stages of picking integrators to help fit the necessary features and offerings into the contract, Bates said.

NWCIP is intended to extend the emergency communications capabilities past the existing landline priority system, the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS).

Existing mobile radio systems are generally single-channel analog FM voice systems, owned and operated by single agencies to perform a single, well-defined mission.

NWCIP has been in development for more than a year, but it received little attention or funding, said an industry official involved in the program. However, the importance of wireless communications interoperability was made evident by the events of Sept. 11, and the program is now moving forward quickly, the official said.

NWCIP began as part of the Defense Department's Pacific Mobile Emergency Radio System, which is being deployed in Hawaii and Alaska to improve coordination between DOD and civilian federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, according to a May 2001 presentation at the Federal Wireless Users Forum by Charles Cape, director of special projects and programs in Commerce's Office of the Chief Information Officer.

At the time, the system was expected to save $94 million over eight years by eliminating resource and equipment duplication. Because communication between military and law enforcement is necessary now more than ever, DOD is accelerating the fielding of the system, Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, testified in February before the House International Relations Committee.

NWCIP is one of several wireless interoperability programs under way in government. Others include the Public Safety Wireless Network and the Project Safecom e-government initiative led by the Treasury Department.

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