CDPD Technology Boosts Police Communications

The wireless communications industry is cashing in on CDPD technology

Using a four-year-old technology called cellular digital packet data or CDPD, a roster of communications vendors are finding instant wireless access to be an effective tool for police officers on patrol.

Based on wide-area, wireless data networks, the technology is allowing companies such as Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, Bedminster, N.J.; AT&T Wireless, Morristown, N.J.; and GTE Mobile- Net, Atlanta, to provide police officers with instant wireless access to information via laptop computers in their cruisers. Analysts say the $36 million market is quiet but emerging quickly.

"CDPD faces a lot of competition as we converge [on] 2000," said Bob Egan, research director for Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn. "In 1996, it will be a very noticeable technology for public safety and point-of-sale transactions."

CDPD is a wireless communications capability that functions on the Advanced Cellular Mobile Services cellular infrastructure already in place throughout the United States and Canada.

CDPD is open and usable to anyone, but it is well-suited to mobile use because it offers a high-speed, high-capacity, low-cost system with the greatest possible coverage.

The cellular coverage of CDPD has opened the doors for multiple markets.

The most visible are police communications, telemetry and point-of-sale financial transactions.

For example, oil and gas companies in Farmington, N.M., use CDPD to monitor remote pipelines and wells.

In the point-of-sale market, CDPD is being utilized in the $9 billion financial transaction market that includes credit cards, debit cards and check authorization.

CDPD is also capable of providing electronic mail and directory services, as well as broadcast services such as local traffic advisories, flight schedule information and advertising.

But according to analysts, CDPD is most visible in police communications for obvious reasons: It's cheap, fast, reliable and secure with built-in encryption.

The CDPD system allows officers to connect to national, state and federal databases, police computers, the National Crime Information Computer and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Police officers use the databases to look up information on a citizen, vehicle or house.

Previously, the voice dispatch network only provided information on the officers' assigned counties.

"The system allows police stations to collect more tickets by being able to process them quicker, and they use the dispatcher's time less," said McArtney, who was unable to reveal Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile's profits from offering the CDPD service.

"There is a 300 percent increase in efficiency for police departments," he said.

Since the infrastructure is in place, police departments are paying for the service, which is charged on a per-use basis. Police departments also have to purchase the equipment that goes along with CDPD communications, which is CDPD modems to go with the laptop computers, the software, installation, and maintenance and support.

For example, Philadelphia police department has spent $700,000 for a four-month pilot program. The cost covered the purchase of 77 laptops, mounts, wiring, modems, service from Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, training and software.

About nine police stations in the United States are using CDPD technology, but according to analysts, many trials are taking place throughout the country.

According to Mirva Antilla, a wireless analyst for Northern Business Information of New York, Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile is the leading company in the industry, followed by AT&T Wireless and GTE MobileNet.

Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile has been penetrating the police communications market with CDPD since April 1994.

According to Tom McArtney, market manager for wireless data, the technology is alleviating several problems in police communications.

Voice dispatch over radios causes faulty communication between police officers to dispatchers. Computerized information relieves this problem, improves the time it takes to get requested information returned and the amount of information officers' have access to.

Even though the industry is at a very early stage, analysts predict the CDPD market to hit $1 billion by 1999.

According to Antilla, the market is being driven by "the major operators' activities and their interests." Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, the most aggressive company in the CDPD market, reported in October 1995 that it had deployed CDPD in 18 cellular service areas in the United States.

AT&T Wireless reported it had deployed CDPD in 13 cellular service areas by October 1995.

Dave Coverdale, managing director of the CDPD Forum, a non-profit association in Chicago with more than 90 members, calls CDPD in police communications one of the biggest successes in the wireless market.

"CDPD is considered a very new technology compared to other transmission technology like cellular voice," said Coverdale. "But CDPD is moving along very quickly."

State and Local Police Forces Using CDPD for Communications:

Groton, Conn.

West Jordan, Utah

State of Utah

Delta, British Columbia, Canada

Philadelphia, Pa.

Bridgewater, N.J.

Mesa, Ariz.

Bethlehem, Pa.

Lakeland, Fla.

Alexandria, Va.

Somerville Borough, N.J.

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