Raytheon sees a new market in public safety

Raytheon Co., which has been supplying communications electronics to the Defense Department for decades, is using that expertise in an aggressive attempt to widen its footprint in the civilian market.

Raytheon Co., which has been supplying communications electronics to the Defense Department for decades, is using that expertise in an aggressive attempt to expand its presence in the civilian market.

The Raytheon technology developed for the military “is everything we wish we had in public safety, frankly,” said Mike Bostic, director of West Coast operations at Raytheon’s network centric systems business, a unit of Raytheon that is about three years old.

Bostic's communications expertise comes from a 34-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he rose to the rank of assistant chief of police. Bostic joined Raytheon about two years ago.

He said public safety organizations struggle with the same problems that the military confronts. “It’s even more complicated in the public safety market because there are thousands of agencies all over the country doing their own thing.”

Bostic recalled that when he was recruited by Raytheon, he was told the company “had the capability of changing the dynamic of how communications is bought and sold in the public safety market.”

Through its work with the military services, Raytheon had created an open-architecture system that allowed the different military silos of communications and data systems to communicate with one another, Bostic explained.

Raytheon is bringing that same open-architecture technology to the civilian communications market so public safety organizations can buy any communications equipment they want and run it on the Raytheon system.

That approach was a revelation, Bostic said, because the only thing he’d known in law enforcement was that vendors would try to sell the LAPD a new radio communications system, which would then lock the department into the radio and the proprietary system for the next 20 or 30 years, usually for the life of the system.

Under that scenario, the vendor controls the department's destiny, he said. “They decide when we need new radios. They decide when we need software upgrades. They decide when we need new equipment.”

Bostic likened the Raytheon model to the cell phone market, in which manufacturers compete to sell applications, capabilities and equipment. But each company’s cell phone subscribers have access to all other users.

As a subcontractor on Teton Communications’ multimillion-dollar contract with Idaho, Raytheon developed the APCO Project 25, known as the P25 radio system.

The year-old P25net is an advanced IP-networked radio system that provides public safety agencies throughout eastern Idaho with seamless interoperable communications, Bostic said.

“It’s not just for radio,” he explained. “It’s for data and video. Any open-architecture program will work on this structure.”

“With the P25net, over time, the handheld [radios] just become a commodity, because on our system, any radio can work,” Bostic said. "We don’t do anything proprietary. That’s the game changer.”

Raytheon is installing the communications backbone, a 14-site P25net digital trunked solution, in Bonneville County, Idaho. The company is also providing system integration services that includes equipment configuration and 24-hour technical support.

The radios come from Tait Radio Communications.

Bonneville County in eastern Idaho received a federal grant to underwrite the cost of the new countywide system, which includes four municipal communities and the Bonneville County fire district No. 1, and which covers about 100,000 residents, said Stacy Hyde, fire chief of Ammon, Idaho.

All four were operating in the VHS bandwidth before the new system became operational, Hyde said. Two of the four jurisdictions already are online with the largest entity, the city of Idaho Falls, expected to come on line soon.

Ammon and the Yukon city fire departments are now on the system, he said. His Ammon department came on board early this year.

A third, Swan Valley, had to send back its radios for reprogramming after finding that they would automatically turn off when left on all night, Hyde said.

“They found some other little glitches in the programming," he added. “Tait was notified of the issues, and then they developed a new firmware and software package for it to address all the issues.” 

“But for the most part, the system is up and running right now,” he said. “I think it’s working really well.”

Hyde said the only problem his department has encountered came from sound distortion caused by everyone having the volume turned up on their radios. So the department distributed individual earpieces, which solved the sound problem. “You can actually understand what’s being said now,” Hyde said.

Bostic added that urban locations such as the San Francisco Bay area often can benefit more from the open-architecture system than rural areas such as eastern Idaho because major metropolitan areas can adapt the open system without starting from scratch with all new equipment.

“For example, fire departments in general like the analog radio,” Bostic said. “They’re not in any hurry to go to digital platforms, and most police are. With our system, you could have both.”

“All the small cities, all the midsize cities, they all control their own destiny,” Bostic added. "They aren’t controlled by the vendor who just built the latest system.”

So Raytheon is targeting some of the larger metropolitan areas to become a bigger player in the civilian market, he said.

In addition, the open architecture creates a value proposition for procurement officials because the buyer has the upper hand in dealing with communication vendors.

“If I am buying 13,000 radios, I can guarantee you that they are going to compete for my business,” Bostic said.