The 88 cities of Los Angeles County have banded together to end a long-standing business model that forces them to upgrade first responder radio systems at the whim of vendors.
The practice of selling closed-architecture systems has favored a small group of public safety radio manufacturers for decades, said former city of Los Angeles assistant police chief Michael Bostic, who now works for Raytheon as its director of public safety solutions.
A joint powers agreement signed by the cities will create the Los Angeles Regional Interoperability Communications System, which is designed to bring an open architecture system — commonly used in the commercial mobile phone market — to police departments.
Just as consumers can choose any brand of mobile phone they want, police and fire departments want the same options, Bostic said. The municipalities created an independent board that will oversee the process and remain free of interference from city councils. It issued a request for proposals in April and an award for the $600 million contract is expected as early as December, he said.
It will be the largest public safety network in the world, Bostic claimed.
Motorola, Harris and EF Johnson Technologies, who dominate the public sector radio market, are expected to compete to build the system. One of these manufacturers may win the contract, but the award will not include the equipment. The vendors will have to compete with each other to sell the handheld and mobile radios to the 88 cities and their respective public safety departments. The RFP asks that legacy radios work on the new system. Raytheon intends to bid on the contract as well, Bostic said.
“It’s a game changer in the market,” he said.
The public safety sector has until recently relied on a select number of radio manufacturers who unilaterally decide when a radio has become obsolete, Bostic said.
As a former police chief in charge of information technology, he experienced the old way of doing business.
“We were pretty much always at the vendors’ mercy as to when we had to do software upgrades, radio upgrades, system upgrades,” he told National Defense.
The police department would receive notice that a radio was going to be replaced, and then Bostic would have to go to the city council with his hat in hand and ask for millions of dollars to fund the upgrades.
“You don’t have a choice. If you have their system, and they decide to discontinue service to their radio, you have to buy a whole new system. They’re very expensive radios. Good quality, but very expensive,” he said.
Bostic estimated 30 to 50 percent savings in the short-term for taxpayers. A similar open architecture system in Europe has driven down the price of handheld radios to about $1,200 apiece. U.S. police radios average about $5,000 apiece now, he said.