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Interoperability State-of-the-Art

Written by Susan Geoghegan

The use of wireless communications technology within the public safety sector continues to play a major role in creating safer communities. A recent survey by The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and Motorola shows that public safety administrators and first responders recognize the importance of advanced technologies in missioncritical environments.

The results also show that the majority of agencies currently use some form of wireless communications technology, which includes computer mapping, traffic light sensors and video surveillance systems. While the main area of concern cited is interoperability, emergency personnel want systems that are reliable, scalable and mobile. Ultimately, they want userfriendly technology that provides improved protection for citizens and enhanced safety for first responders.

Solectek

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Solectek is a manufacturer of long-range broadband wireless products used to transmit voice, data and video. As a global leader in point-to-point and point-to-multipoint in the licensed and unlicensed frequency bands, the company offers a full line of broadband wireless products. Solectek’s broad product portfolio includes high-capacity backhaul, multipoint/access networks and management systems.

Solectek’s SkyWay Series includes licensed and unlicensed point-to-point backhaul, unlicensed multipoint access, WiMax multipoint access and mobile broadband access. The SkyWay 5000 Series delivers data rates up to 72Mbps, allowing users to download large data files, high-resolution images and video clips in a matter of seconds. Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) provides increased spectral frequency for higher data rates and multiple, non-overlapping channels.

With the fully integrated SkyWay 5000 Series, digital baseband, radio and antenna are all combined into a single, weatherized outdoor chassis, complete with Power over Ethernet (PoE) support. This high-powered bridge/router is equipped with a 400mW radio that extends the 5.8GHz range to unprecedented distances, while maintaining reliable connections, even in RF congested areas.

To more effectively fight crime and protect communities, law enforcement agencies have been upgrading their communications systems, especially in the area of networked surveillance. Today’s IP network cameras are inexpensive, easily deployed and can be remotely monitored and controlled. However, deploying a camera surveillance network over a wide area requires wireless backhaul, which poses several challenges.

High-resolution streaming video requires larger bandwidths, and non-line-of-sight (NLOS) links may be needed to ensure the best placement of cameras. Looking to successfully deploy a network surveillance system, the city of New Orleans Police and its solution provider Active Video Solutions (AVS) chose Solectek’s SkyWay 5000 multi-point systems to meet these requirements.

In 2004, initial macro cells were deployed in high-crime areas of the city, using three stations and 20 network cameras. Solectek systems provided the required bandwidth and the critical NLOS capabilities, allowing rapid dispatch of resources to the crime scene. Police personnel can assess the situation with camera images, resulting in enhanced identification of suspects for arrests and court cases.

A testimonial to the successful deployment of the system comes from then-Vice President of AVS Iggie Perrin. “Solectek SkyWay 5000 was the best we could find in the market. It offers a unique combination of high capacity bandwidth, ease of deployment and NLOS capability for difficult installation. We have been very successful in integrating their system with our camera solutions,” Perrin said.

Nevada’s Douglas County Communications/9-1-1 is a consolidated emergency communications center that serves as a multi-agency dispatch operation from a single coordinated point. When the 4.9 GHz licensed spectrum band was created exclusively for public safety use, the center decided to deploy a video monitoring system within the region. Although they already had access to a license for their own emergency services, the interference-free 4.9 GHz band gave them the reliability needed for this highly critical application.

Solectek 5.8 radios, sold under the AirStream brand of Tessco Technologies, were initially installed at specified intersections in South Lake Tahoe to monitor casino crowds. Since then, the surveillance system has evolved into a traffic watch program for the sheriff’s department. In addition to backhauling video signals to the department, Solectek radios can also aggregate and transport multiple camera signals gathered from pre-existing Wi-Fi networks.

According to President and CEO Eric Lee, Solectek is continually able to introduce exciting new products at reasonable prices. The company achieves this by keeping research and development programs in line with market expectations and partnering with other technology providers. In addition to providing high-value broadband products, Solectek’s services and support team is on hand to ensure a seamless migration throughout all phases of a project. Lee stated, “We provide high performance products at reasonable costs and extensive technical support to ensure the customer’s networks are implemented as quickly as possible. We keep our partners and customers happy.”

Motorola

Since 2004, Motobridge solutions have been used by city, county and state agencies for both fixed and mobile applications. Motobridge is a highly scalable, IP-based system that builds on traditional gateway components to create a flexible, dynamic interoperability solution for the public safety sector. Its distributed architecture design allows each component to function independently in case of damage or loss of power. It can be easily expanded from a single location to an unlimited number of agencies and users.

Among the networks that can be supported for interoperability are two-way radio systems, Project 25 systems, telephone (IP, cellular and landline), Sprint PTT networks, and radio systems from any manufacturer. Motobridge is also interoperable with MOTOTRBO radio systems, and SMARTNET, SmartZone and ASTRO 25 systems. Motobridge offers an IP Dispatch application that allows network administrators to quickly set up communication with radio users via a simple graphical user interface. Pre-configured emergency communication plans can be stored and easily activated with the click of a mouse. Effective joint response planning is achieved with the Virtual Control Head feature that connects various dispatch control points and telephone users via fullduplex telephone conferencing. For systems that experience “dead spot” coverage issues, Motobridge’s voting gateway provides over-IP radio voting capability that supports up to 64 sites. According to Silvia Grabacki, senior business manager for Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions, Motobridge was developed to provide enhanced communications technology to first responders operating on divergent systems. In February of 2007, a series of violent tornadoes devastated several counties in central Florida and left more than 20,000 residents without power.

With a downed communications tower in Lake County, coverage was nonexistent, potentially jeopardizing emergency operations. Fortunately, through the Florida Interoperability Network, which was implemented for enhanced interoperability among disparate systems during emergency operations, communications among emergency personnel operating in the affected areas continued uninterrupted.

In a previous article that appeared in Government Technology’s “Emergency Management,” Greg Holcomb, communications technology manager for Lake County Public Safety, said that the gateway allowed the surrounding counties to assist in patching mutual aid radio channels from their system to the first responders.

Motorola’s ASTRO 25 solution is a mission-critical voice and data communication network that uses IP-based call processing and Project 25 Common Air Interface to provide trunked network connectivity. Designed to meet the needs of public safety, ASTRO 25 is a reliable, cost-effective solution that offers increased geographic coverage and enhanced data applications.

Supporting VHF, UHF and 700/800 MHz bands, it provides seamless interoperability across agencies and jurisdictions. ASTRO 25 offers a complete line of rugged, user-friendly mobile and portable radios, as well as dispatch solutions for enhanced functionality in emergency operations.

In September 2010, Dare County, N.C., began preparations for the installation of the Motorola 800 MHz Project 25 digital radio system, providing interoperable communications between county agencies and the state’s Viper Radio System. The system includes an integrated voice and data simulcast network with six voice sites and nine paging sites, as well as upgraded dispatch consoles. The county will also take delivery of 146 Motorola XTL2500 mobile radios, 136 Motorola XTS2500 portable radios and 27 Motorola XTL2500 control station radios.

Motorola and its partners and suppliers will oversee the staging process to ensure that the components meet Motorola quality standards and are compatible with other components within the system. Once installed, Motorola technicians will conduct field testing and begin training emergency personnel. Dare County Sheriff Rodney W. Midgett said, “Our goal is for all public safety personnel in Dare County to be transitioned over to the new MHz radio system before the busy 2011 Easter holiday.”

Raytheon

Raytheon Company has been a technology and innovation leader since its founding in 1922, and one area of expertise is in the development and conversion of defense technologies for use in commercial markets. The company’s Civil Communications division offers enhanced interoperability to the public sector with its ACU and WAIS applications. According to Michael J. Bostic, director of West Coast Operations for Civil Communications, Raytheon’s experience in systems integration and architecture led to the creation and deployment of sophisticated, secure interoperability solutions for both the military and public safety. Raytheon’s Wide Area Interoperability System (WAIS) provides first responders operating on different systems or frequencies with the interoperability needed to communicate across entire regions and states. WAIS software easily integrates into existing systems and allows users to control interconnected, on-site interoperability systems from any point on a network.

The ACU-1000 solution allows simultaneous cross-connection of different radio networks to telephone or SATCOM systems, as well as RoIP/VoIP talkpaths. The system connects up to 12 audio devices (and can be expanded to 24) and has the ability to interconnect radios in any band. Neither computer- nor network-dependent for its operation, the ACU Controller software offers three different methods of operation for system redundancy.

Building on the ACU-1000 system, the ACU-2000 IP interoperability solution has added SIP capabilities that allow disparate communications systems to be connected, monitored and controlled over an IP network. Field-configurable and highly scalable, this modular system gives customers the advantages of open-standards SIP protocol and functionality for their existing radio systems.

SIP communication capabilities are offered in two versions, depending on a customer’s specific needs. The local Interoperability Gateway provides SIP capability that allows full radio interoperability across the network, while the server-based version uses SIP to provide cross-connection capability for radios and other four-wire devices.

The ACU-2000 IP allows two-way radio users to directly call telephone extensions, with call forwarding, call logging and call recording capabilities. It provides SIP VoIP device/ radio connectivity, while its distributed network design ensures continuity in the event of system failure.

Located in the Sutter Buttes region of northern California, the Yuba City Police Department (YCPD) recently deployed a multi-agency interoperability system using Raytheon’s ACU-2000 IP interoperability gateway component. With extensive input from area agencies, the system was designed and built by Sutter Buttes Communications Inc. The topography of the region includes several lakes and rivers as well as a solitary, high-level mountain in an otherwise flat plain of the Sacramento valley.

Placed on the mountain top to ensure optimum coverage, the system includes low and high band frequencies, as well as 800 MHz repeaters and base stations. Each resource is also connected into the ACU-2000 IP interoperability system, providing a seamless gateway patch among the various frequency resources on an as-needed basis.

Yuba City Police Chief Richard J. Doscher pointed out that prior to the implementation of this wide-area system, local agencies relied primarily on the use of mobile interoperability systems. “This system will incorporate the use of fixed frequencies for instant activation, and the deployment of interoperability solutions has already proven successful in the community through the use of these mobile gateways,” Doscher said.

He also stated that throughout the entire process, Raytheon’s sales and technical support has been outstanding. “The support we’ve received is phenomenal—the local dealership as well as factory sales and the technical staff have made themselves available through various stages of this project.”

Harris

For more than 80 years, Harris Corp. has been a leading global provider of assured communications systems and services to both the private and public sectors. The events of Sept. 11 revealed the need for enhanced communications across disparate radio systems during crisis situations. Responding to this need, Harris has developed powerful network and radio solutions that provide first responders with the tools required for effective response during critical operations.

NetworkFirst is a permanent IP network solution that enables continuous interoperability among agencies operating on different frequencies and systems. Part of the company’s VIDA (Voice, Interoperability, Data, Access) solution, this highly scalable system can be deployed as a standalone interoperability solution or as a fully supported application of an existing VIDA network solution.

A key component of the NetworkFirst system, the Interoperability Gateway is a multi-channel codec module that converts incoming analog voice communication into digital IP packets which are then directly routed through the network to digital radio users or dispatchers.

The Harris P25IP (Project 25 to the Power of Internet Protocol) system is an IP-based network that provides reliable and secure interoperability communications at the network level using P25 standards with Project 25 ISSI and NetworkFirst, or at the subscriber level by incorporating multi-mode radios.

By combining the P25 standard and the advanced functionality of the VIDA Core Network, P25IP is a cost-effective solution that is easily scalable to meet the needs of changing technologies. The multi-node radios support several different wireless protocols and analog conventional, allowing gradual migration from legacy systems to P25 systems.

To meet the requirements of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, Harris developed VIDA Broadband Long Term Evolution (LTE), a complete 700 MHz private broadband network based on the 3GPP LTE cellular technology. Designed exclusively for public safety, it offers broadband mission-critical communications for first responders by allowing direct connection of Harris VIDA-based LMR and the LTE systems into a single multi-band, multi-node communication network.

VIDA Broadband LTE comprises several key elements. The VIDA Core Network provides packet routing, mobility management and service provisioning capabilities to users on the network. Wireless coverage is provided with an LTE Radio Access Network (RAN), and integrated multi-agency network administration gives users both broadband data and public safety voice capabilities simultaneously. Network management servers and consoles monitor the performance and status of the network devices.

Harris Corp. recently received a $9 million contract from Ontario County, N.Y., to upgrade its public safety communications system. The Harris P25IP system will provide interoperable communications to approximately 2,500 first responders in a 662-square-mile area. Using the Harris VIDA network, the County's P25IP trunked system will replace the existing analog infrastructure with digital audio quality for clearer communications and enhanced coverage. The robust VIDA network will provide regional interoperability, allowing other agencies and counties to connect directly or via gateways to the network.

According to Sam Casella, county supervisor and chairman of the Ontario County Public Safety Committee, the county evaluated many different alternatives before making a decision. "We chose Harris because we believe its solution will meet both our current and future communication needs. The Harris P25IP system underscores our commitment to deliver the highest quality communications system available to our community."

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Florida. She can be reached at sgeofl@embarqmail.com.


Published in Law and Order, Nov 2010

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