DHS ups connectivity on the northern border

Thursday - 10/28/2010, 10:31am EDT

Mark McNulty, vice president, U.S. Federal markets, Motorola

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Even before 9/11, emergency communications presented a challenge. Responders from different agencies and levels of government had trouble communicating by radio. That's because there are so many frequencies and radio types. Now Customs and Border Protection has awarded a $30 million contract for secure and interoperable communications on the Northern border.

Mark McNulty, vice president for U.S. Federal markets at Motorola, explained to the Federal Drive, Project 25 (P25) standards, which were developed in the late 1980s to allow agencies and emergency teams to communicate with each other, are the basis for the new system for DHS.

TAC-COM (Tactical Communications) is being driven out of their wireless systems office which is within the office of the CIO is really deploying a P25 standards based integrated voice and data communications system that is intended to serve, you know, Border Patrol agents, their checkpoint officers, their air and marine operations and it's really, being based off of the P25 standards, provides an increased level of interoperability not only with their coworkers and other component agencies within the Department of Homeland Security but really with other federal law enforcement agencies and it's also the standard that's been adopted with many of their law enforcement partners in state and local law enforcement operations.

The radios themselves, said McNulty, "have come a long way from the typical old black brick or green brick with an antenna on top. They're very ergonomically designed. Designed for use in harsh environments with people who may be using gloves or other body coverings."

Obviously, they have to do more than just look good. McNulty made it clear they've got that covered too.

"The system itself is intended to expand radio coverage and capacity for CBP on the northern border. We're enhancing the radio traffic security by deploying multiple algorhythms within the subscriber radios and at the infrastructure level including AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption."

The encryption, said McNulty, isn't just for voice. "We're providing operational key management, which means we can increase the security of those communications by frequently and very efficiently changing the encryption keys that are used over the integrated voice and data capability of the network."

And as if that weren't enough, said McNulty, "we're also providing secure GPS location information that can be fed back into their command centers for command and control to both enhance situational awareness, and understanding where people and or assets are located and really also increasing the safety of CBP personnel."

Under the contract, according to the company, "Motorola will manage the delivery, installation and optimization of P25 radio network technology. Additionally, the company will be responsible for Point-to-Point wireless IP backhaul optimization and civil deployment to more than 50 remote radio frequency (RF) tower sites over a period of 24 months."