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The State of Illinois contracts with Motorola to provide a statewide P25 digital trunked radio system known as STARCOM21. The network is owned by Motorola and leased back to the state for a monthly per-user service fee.  The State’s Sole Source Justification Form indicates the value of the contract was $50,712,000 between 09/28/2001 and 09/27/2010, and sole source approval is being requested for $207,864,678 over the next 10 years without the benefit of competitive bid.  ($20.7M per year for 10 years.)

Let’s give the State the benefit of the doubt and say they have 9,300 users (the 6,000 State agency radios plus 3,300 mutual aid/disaster/interop radios). The actual number of radios may be much less.  If you divide $20.7M by 9,300 subscriber units , the annual cost per radio is about $2,225 or $185 per month.

STARCOM21 users currently pay about about $53 per radio per month to operate on the system.  A new fee of $76 per radio per month has been proposed, but this amount would leave a huge unfunded deficit.  $76 per month for 9,300 radios would raise $84,816,000 over 10 years. What else is going to be included for the additional $123M, and where will the balance come from?

In addition to the monthly fee, agencies that participate in STARCOM21 must purchase subscriber radios at a cost of $3,000 to $6,000 each.

Motorola is headquartered in Illinois and, obviously, exerts significant political influence in its home state.

STARCOM21 masquerades as a standards-based P25 radio system, however it seems that the only standards it adheres to are those set by Motorola.   A true “standards based” system would allow and encourage integration of components, including subscriber equipment, from a variety of manufacturers.  This is not the case with STARCOM21.

The rare business model adopted by the State of Illinois whereby the vendor owns the radio infrastructure leads to inflexibility, locks the State and its participating political subdivisions to one vendor and leads to “chained” purchase orders.  This results in questionable attempts to justify sole source procurement and limits competition,  potentially keeping prices unreasonably high and locking out potentially qualified firms. A lot has happened with P25 technology since the original STARCOM21 contract in 2001 and many more qualified vendors have equipment available for purchase.

STARCOM21 Sole Source Justification Form (09/10/2010)

STARCOM21 Brochure

10/22/2010  update —

Originally posted to the PWF mailing list by an Illinois public-safety communications professional.

While the State of Illinois awaits another hearing regarding the sole-source 10-year agreement with the incumbent vendor, a hand full of Illinois counties are negotiating (or close to signing) long-term contracts with the incumbent vendor based on the soon-to-expire current contract. Many are also hiding behind a local sole-source decision due to the State’s master contract.

This turns into a problematic set of circumstances for those counties:

  • The contract the counties are acting upon is linked to the “Master Contract” with Illinois Central Management Services which is set to expire in less than a year.
  • Since no one knows the content of the contract being negotiated for the next 10 years, and the new “Master Contract” may radically change (rates per unit, discount schedule, etc), how will these counties guarantee what will happen next in “year 2”? How will the per-unit-per-month rates be assured?
  • If a county acts now under the old contract, and rates are better than the new contract, what happens? Will the counties signing up after September 2011 have higher (or different) rates from those counties signing up now? How will this be justified?
  • If competition continues to be suppressed for P25 units, the incumbent vendor may have locked up a 20 year monopoly for a standards-based P25 system.

In talking to vendors at a recent conference in Illinois, it was pointed out the there are additional “trickle down” consequences to the sole-source award being considered by CMS. Not only will the subscriber-unit competition be suppressed, but the incumbent vendor will only allow one recording vendor for system-oriented consoles. You have to wonder what other chilling effects will be present as a result of the sole-source proposal.

The Illinois radio dealers’ association has weighed in against the sole-source, and many of those members also sell the incumbent brand – a bold move to come out against the sole-source proposal.

On the contrary, we’re seeing fire service entities who wish to stay on VHF move to GSA-type purchases with an off-shore radio entity that does an excellent job with VHF simulcast. Since the statewide system lacks features the fire service wants, another vendor is coming on strong to fill that gap – the big difference is the absence of a monopoly on VHF.

You have to admire the capitalistic opportunities in a politically-questionable climate!

Sunshine is a real good disinfectant, but the back-room is still very dark, and maybe a little smokey.