Aether lands its biggest contract

$7 million software deal to help Pa. troopers in battle against crime

August 13, 2002|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,SUN STAFF

Aether Systems Inc., an Owings Mills wireless communications company that has sought to build a niche in homeland security as other once-fertile areas of its business dried up, says it will announce today its largest contract ever, a $7 million pact with the Pennsylvania State Police. .

Aether software will give Pennsylvania troopers access to information from computers in their cruisers, including crime data banks, maps and law references. The system will include an encrypted form of instant messaging, called tactical chat, so that troopers can communicate between cars and command centers.

"This is a huge contract for us," said Mike Mancuso, a company group president.

Aether's involvement is part of a four-year, $125 million technology upgrade for the Pennsylvania State Police. The larger project, being managed by Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems, will include a bar-code system to track evidence more securely and computer-aided communications that will shave the number of dispatch centers across Pennsylvania to five from 81, said Lt. Jacob Crider, who manages information technology for the state police.

The biggest challenge for the wireless part of the project is maintaining a signal for 1,600 police cruisers throughout sparsely populated, mountainous stretches, especially in the northern and central areas of the state, Crider said. The project includes additional towers to address that, he said.

While corporate investment in new information technology has slowed, Aether during the past year has focused on government, homeland security and trucking as sources of potential clients.

Aether's previous largest contract was for $6.5 million last year with Sun Microsystems Inc. Aether's clients include Baltimore and 11 other state police agencies.

Government contracts are expected to provide $22 million in revenue for the company is fiscal 2002, up from $17 million in 2000, according to GARP Research Corp., an investment research firm in Towson. That area of business for Aether is expected to grow 25 percent through fiscal 2005, slightly faster than projections for the company's overall revenue growth, a recent GARP report said.

The company has struggled during the past year and a half, and its shares have continued to plummet. The stock's all-time high was $315, in March 2000; the shares closed yesterday at $3, up 11 cents..

Layoffs have halved Aether's work force to about 650.

Aether reported last week that its losses in the second quarter of this year shrank compared with those a year earlier, to 46 cents a share from $2.55 a share last year. Total revenue was stagnant at $32 million.

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