New York Wireless Network Faces Serious Problems, CIO Says

But Melodie Mayberry-Stewart expresses optimism that troubles can be fixed.

New York state CIO Melodie Mayberry-Stewart held out hope last week that New York's Statewide Wireless Network project could be salvaged. But she said problems with the massive wireless network -- the largest IT project in the state's history -- are significant.

Mayberry-Stewart sent a notice of default to Massachusetts-based M/A-COM, primary contractor for the project, on Aug. 29. The notice identifies 19 deficiencies discovered in the system during a 12-day testing period in July and gives the vendor 45 days to correct them.

"We're optimistic that M/A-COM will be able to fix their problems," said Mayberry-Stewart, in a Sept. 5 interview with Government Technology magazine. "There are a wide range of them, and they're related to software issues as well as equipment problems. So they're pretty significant. Rest assured, for us to get to this point, we felt that [the problems] were grave enough that we need to initiate the default letter."

New York's wireless network project was launched three years ago to provide interoperable wireless communications for public safety and public service agencies across the state. M/A-COM won the contract -- potentially worth more than $2 billion -- in April 2004.

The Aug. 29 default notice essentially gives M/A-COM a last chance to remedy the network's shortcomings.

According to the notice, the wireless network failed two earlier tests -- one in fall 2007 and another in spring 2008 -- before July's unsuccessful assessment. The state will test the network once more at the end of the 45-day correction period to see if the problems are fixed. If deficiencies remain, the state could cancel the project or elect to keep portions of the network that already are completed.

New York state has spent $51.5 million on the network since signing the contract, the state CIO's office said. The contract requires M/A-COM to reimburse the state for all expenses up to $100 million if the deal is canceled, according to Mayberry-Stewart. In addition, M/A-COM agreed to repay $8.5 million in federal grant money used in the project if the contract is terminated.

Problems outlined in the default notice include high failure rates for mobile radios and other portable devices; multiple site outages that rendered the network unavailable for 43 hours during the July test period; and glitches with the network's uninterrupted roaming feature that in some cases prevented the use of radios for emergency communications.

The complete notice of default, a 2007 auditor's report on the project and other information is available online from the New York State Office for Technology.

"This is the largest technology project the state's ever undertaken," said Mayberry-Stewart. "We want to make sure not only that we are being transparent, but that we really are holding the vendor to a high level of accountability. We're hoping that message -- that we really want our vendors to produce -- will resonate throughout our vendor community."