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The controversy in Illinois continues with a formal protest being filed by Harris Corporation alleging the contract for the State’s digital trunked radio system is a monopoly that is enjoyed by one vendor for the past decade. “The contract not only locks in the infrastructure equipment and services to Motorola, but the purchase of all of the subscriber (user) radios as well”, says Paul Marshall of Harris Corp.

Artwork contributed by some public-safety communications folks in Illinois

Mr. Marshall continues, “At a time of state budget difficulties, this contract – bundled to include all equipment purchases – will cost the state at least 30% more than if the State of Illinois unbundled the services contract from the subscriber equipment contract and allowed multiple vendors to competitively supply subscriber radios, all of which are tested as being P25 standards complaint.  Almost 10 years ago, the Motorola StarCom21 system was intended, announced, and built to be an “open P25 architecture” network so that any number of competing vendors could provide portable and mobile

radios that would work on it. Unfortunately this promise has never been realized, and a decade later, StarCom21 is still exclusively a Motorola network with a Motorola monopoly on radio equipment.”

Conspicuously absent from the documents I’ve reviewed regarding StarCom21 is any reference to contemporary radio system performance specifications. There is a vague reference to 95% coverage for mobile radios, but no specific data regarding requirements for a minimum DAQ (Delivered Audio Quality), especially for in-building coverage.  I could find no reference to assurances for system availability (uptime) or penalties for downtime.

As a further disincentive to competition, the State of Illinois contract provides for a penalty assessment if a non-Motorola radio is deployed onto the network.  Cities and counties that use the StarCom21 system may independently buy radio equipment, but must pay a surcharge if they select a non-Motorola product.  There are reportedly 2 non-Motorola radios out of a total of 15,000+ units.

Click here to read the full text of the letter from Mr. Marshall of Harris Corporation.

Misc supporting documents

Letter from Illinois State Police to Harris Corp re P25 security (07/24/2009)

Letter from Harris Corp to Illinois State Police regarding StarCom21 security issue (08/20/2009)

Letter from Motorola to Starcom21 customer assessing a financial penalty for using a non-Motorola radio (01/07/2009)

Motorola and five other P25 equipment manufacturers demonstrate P25 interoperability (08/04/2009)

Starcom21 Gateway Access Application (03/26/2009)

State of Illinois StarCom21 contract award information for $207M (09/10/2010)

Starcom sole source justification (09/10/2010)

The following comment was submitted to me via e-mail by a public-safety communications professional in Illinois.

There are several problems with what is going on in Illinois:

  1. A $5M/year contract is apparently coming to a close, and a new contract is being proposed for Sept 2011. This was a contract for state agencies to use the statewide radio platform. The state seems to be forced to make a new contract since a renewal seems not to be allowed under Illinois law. So, we have a non-renewal-renewal disguised as a fresh, albeit sole source, contract. The $5M/year contract fee now seems to be floating up to $20.7M/year for the exact same service with the exact same number of state users. No one can explain the math. If anyone knows, please enlighten us.
  2. There is clear indication that the state will allow the current vendor to charge a one-time connection fee for off-brand P-25 radios to come on to the state network. The state is allowing the vendor to charge – or not charge – at the vendor’s discretion. So if the vendor likes Brand E but not Brand H, the connection fees might be different between the two brands. The state is apparently leaving it up to the incumbent vendor.
  3. The non-state agency rates (for local gov’t users of the statewide system) seem to be going from $53/month/unit to $76/month/unit.
  4. The state is still having the vendor use the old 700MHz channels from the original allocation (pre-D-Block) and no plan is in place to move the 700MHz channels by 5MHz under the new band plan (post-D-Block). Unless Federal legislation passes which includes “rebanding” cost recovery a la Sprint/NEXTEL, but this time for 700MHz, no one knows how or when the “proper” channels will be used in Illinois. The original waiver to use the old band plan (circa 2007) is non-functional.
  5. The use of non-standard channels means that the equipment being used today is outside of its certification frequency range, formerly known as Type Acceptance. This is true for many of the state channels in use today and applies to ALL of the RF equipment.
  6. The sole source nature of the non-renewal-renewal stinks. To shell out $207M over 10 years looks like a near-forklift of all site equipment in use today. Why? Again, no one can explain what is included in the proposed $207M, but by God, the state’s Sole Source Justification Form shows they are declaring it is “economically infeasible” to do anything else but to stick to the brand of the incumbent vendor.
  7. The new contract calls for a 25% discount on the purchase of legacy equipment (that cannot do TDMA/Phase 2 – a requirement for 700MHz in 2016) under the state procurement plan, but offers NO discount for the current production model of radios that CAN do TDMA/Phase 2.

Please take a second look if you work for a competitor P-25 company. ZERO competition in Illinois….but are we really surprised?