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O N L I N E  E X C L U S I V E

DHS Program to Transition Mission-Critical Communications to Commercial LTE Networks

May 23, 2012

 
 
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stood up a new office to oversee wireless tactical communications including mission-critical voice, data and video on a common broadband network. DHS approved the DHS Tactical Communications Network (TacNet) program in March 2011, directing the establishment of the DHS Joint Wireless Program Management Office (JWPMO) to manage the program.
 
The TacNet program is focused on DHS frontline officers and agents. Rather than own and operate private networks, the approach calls for DHS to participate as a subscriber of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) public-safety and commercial mobile broadband networks. “This new approach will dramatically lower lifecycle costs by sharing infrastructure costs over the larger population of state and local public-safety, federal and commercial users,” said a DHS response to questions. “In addition, it will enable interoperability, accommodate the growing need for mission-critical data and video, help reduce crowding of DHS radio airwaves, and leverage a lower cost commercial mobility device ecosystem.”
 
In the near term, DHS plans to upgrade and modernize current LMR systems to address equipment obsolescence, federal narrowbanding mandates, security requirements and Project 25 (P25) interoperability standards. This modernization plan will be limited in scope based on DHS priorities and mission-critical requirements.
 
Upgrades will be planned, taking into consideration the deployment of the nationwide public-safety broadband network and the availability of commercial technologies to support broadband mission-critical applications, including voice, video and data with the required quality of service. During the transition stage, DHS plans to use both private LMR and public-safety and commercial LTE networks. LMR will be used for voice, and commercial networks will be leveraged for video and data applications in areas where public-safety networks are not available.
 
In the long term, DHS intends to completely transition to commercial technologies and standards-based LTE networks. DHS also plans on conducting technology demonstrations to evaluate promising technologies that will facilitate early transition and adoption of broadband.
 
“At DHS, we have recognized that given the size of our program and our growing need for mission-critical data and interoperability with our partners in tactical environments, it is not feasible to invest billions of dollars in another product cycle of voice-only P25 technology,” said the DHS response. “We have instead set the goal to become early adopters of P25 over LTE networks. Our Science and Technology Directorate (S&TD) is working with the joint program to lead the research and development required to close the current gaps and enable implementation of this transformational goal.”
 
The new office is working with the DHS leadership team to establish a stable funding source for future implementation. The program is developing an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) exhibit with 300 business cases that will begin to define the costs and benefits associated with the DHS TacNet program. In the near term, the DHS JWPMO plans to operate on existing Tactical Communications (TacCom) program funds.
 
Recently, several mission-critical communications vendors, including Arinc, Catalyst Communications, Daniels Electronics and Relm Wireless, have been named to the five-year $3 billion TacCom contract.
 
Existing organizational capacity from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Wireless Systems Program Office and the Wireless Systems Branch of the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) was used to form the DHS JWPMO and provide the foundation for incorporating staff and participation from other DHS stakeholder components, currently under way. Although the program doesn’t include other federal departments, the new office is already collaborating with the departments of Justice and Defense on technology demonstrator opportunities and is open to work with other federal departments as well, DHS officials said.
 
The DHS Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) is charged with providing technical support and recommendations to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), as necessary, to ensure the DHS TacNet program is planned and implemented in full alignment with the nationwide broadband network and its technical standards.
 
The DHS JWPMO roles will be to assist OEC by providing technical support and recommendations and to coordinate with OEC, FirstNet and others to ensure the DHS TacNet program is planned and implemented in full alignment with the nationwide public-safety broadband network and its technical standards.
 
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