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Land mobile radios and public safety IT: Part II

Written by Brad Brewer

The recent International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in Las Vegas was a huge success with all land-based radio system vendors. For law enforcement personnel who were there to evaluate and decide which system was best for them, it was an easy task given the variety. All the big names in mobile radio were there, and Voice over IP (VoIP), P25 compliance and interoperability were among the consistent themes. Paramount among all vendors at IWCE was interoperability, and rightly so, as public safety communications interoperability has been identified by Congress, the National Governor’s Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the 9/11 Commission as an urgent national priority and is a principal focus of the Department of Homeland Security.

APCO Project 25 is the technical standard for digital public safety radio communications developed by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO). So when these vendors talk interoperability, they’re serious. The equipment available today offers so much more than what was offered a few years ago. Just something as simple as being able to use any vendor’s portable radio on a single land-based system is a huge departure from what we have seen previously.

Project 25 and 700 MHz spectrum reallocation are all part of the new land-based radio future for law enforcement. In Part II of our land mobile radio review, we look at some of the latest and greatest from a few seasoned vendors who have been around for some time and offer a range of products that rival anyone in the market.

EFJohnson Technologies Inc.

EFJohnson Technologies Inc. is headquartered in Irving, TX and focuses on developing high-quality secure communications for public safety. The company introduced two products at the recent 2009 IWCE and was showing two others there for the first time.

The new Stargate Dispatch Console is the next generation in IP-based dispatch consoles for first responders. The StarGate console is specifically designed for Internet protocol (IP) control and connectivity in a Project 25 trunked or conventional environment. The development of this product is a result of some close interaction with public safety dispatchers. EFJohnson responded to the users, so the touchscreen graphic user interface (GUI) is designed with the dispatcher in mind. Minimal user intervention and simplicity must be paramount in any system with public safety. “StarGate is the next generation in IP-based dispatch consoles,” said Michael Jalbert, president and chief executive officer of EFJohnson Technologies.

“Most of the dispatch consoles in use today are designed on platforms that are over 20 years old. We designed StarGate for IP control and connectivity in a Project 25 trunked and conventional environment.” StarGate provides a graceful migration path from analog to P25 that fits customer budgets and provides uninterrupted operations. Key features include easily reconfigurable user profiles and screens; best-in-class 20 watts per channel audio that supports up to 10 separate Bose® high-fidelity speakers; enhanced (AMBE+2) Project 25 Vocoder and audio processing engine; DES-OFB Multi Key and AES FIPS 140-2 voice encryption; and enhanced Request to Talk P25 Conventional call management.

EFJohnson offers significant broadband wireless solutions. Its portfolio of wireless access points for outdoor, mobile and vehicular use meet rigorous U.S. government security standards, including FIPS 140-2 and FIPS 802.11, and are designed to provide force protection, critical infrastructure protection / management, and improve the efficiency of base operations. These rugged and reliable products are designed to government standards for harsh environmental conditions. Along with all broadband solutions being FIPS 140-2 validated, its subscriber radios have AES, DES-OFB and DES encryption algorithms.

In order to ease the pain of transition from legacy analog systems to the newer digital systems, EFJohnson’s systems are completely backward compatible so legacy user equipment can be phased out as opposed to wholesale costly upgrades. Its subscriber radios operate in analog and digital, trunked and conventional modes. In addition, EFJohnson offers technical support by phone, technical training by course and by online modules via EFJ Customer Connection (its opt-in customer extranet). This offers any public safety customer significant advantages in scalability, value and investment protection. The company’s conventional P25 infrastructure system offers trunked-like features at a fraction of the cost of a trunked system. All its infrastructure systems are IP-based. EFJohnson also announced Information Assurance for its IP25 systems offerings for first responders. Information Assurance is the process that the U.S. government has defined for ensuring that all IP-based networks meet a predefined standard of operational security. The Information Assurance solution will satisfy the components of network security, confidentiality, integrity and availability, so the same best-in-breed capabilities found in IT systems will be a part of the IP25 systems for first responders.

EFJohnson isn’t just expanding its system portfolio but also its subscriber equipment. One innovation is the new Discover™ GPS Speaker Microphone. This GPS speaker microphone is excellent for coordinating field operations and seeing the location of group members in real time.

A large, backlit LCD screen provides an easy-to-use icon-based operation and allows for graphic representation of relative distance and direction to other team members. It also allows the user to send text messages and waypoints to groups, individuals or dispatch. Users can transmit highly accurate location data in a variety of ways: over analog or digital channels, clear or encrypted, with every push-to-talk or at predetermined time or distance intervals. The Discover™ GPS Speaker Microphone is compatible with a number of commercially available graphic and mapping applications for complete, real-time situational awareness and group coordination. The company also showed the Lightning™ Control Head for its award-winning 5300 ES Series Mobile Radio. This control head uses advanced electroluminescent display technology found in military aircraft instrumentation for a very bright, easy-to-read display at any angle.

Harris Corp.

Harris Corp., an international communications and information technology company based in Melbourne, FL, is offering its expertise in interoperable communications through the new Unity™ family of software-defined radios. Harris has annual revenue of $5.4 billion and 16,000 employees—including nearly 7,000 engineers and scientists—and is dedicated to developing best-in-class assured communications products, systems and services.

Harris first entered the growing public safety / homeland security market in February 2008 with the RF-1033M—the first multiband radio targeting the needs of federal first responders. The Unity XG-100 expands on the capabilities of the RF-1033M and extends the frequency range to cover the 700/800 MHz bands.

At the recent IWCE exhibition in Las Vegas, Harris conducted its first live demonstration of the Unity™ XG-100, a multiband handheld radio designed to allow federal, state, local and tribal government agencies to communicate more effectively using a single radio. The Unity XG-100 is a portable land mobile radio (LMR) that covers public safety frequency bands from 136 to 870 MHz—delivering direct, full-spectrum, instantaneous interoperability for public safety communications.

“The Unity XG-100 is an advanced multiband radio that will provide public safety personnel with direct communications interoperability whenever and wherever necessary,” said Dana Mehnert, president of Harris RF Communications. “As a result, federal, state and local first responders will be able to unify their efforts and provide a better, more coordinated response to emergencies.”

The Unity XG-100 builds on Harris’ heritage with the military and its leadership in software-defined, multiband handheld communication products that are used extensively around the world. The new radio is compliant with the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Project 25, the technical standard for digital public safety radio communications. The multiband capability of the Unity XG-100 will allow public safety agencies to easily upgrade to support evolving technical standards, future capabilities and changing mission requirements.

In March, Harris signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Public Safety, Monroe County, NY, a recognized leader in the performance evaluation and adoption of new technologies. The agreement calls for the Public Safety Department, which procures radios for every public safety agency in Monroe County, to provide feedback and evaluation of the Unity XG-100, as well as other Harris-developed public safety communications products. In addition, Harris has tests under way in several jurisdictions in the New York City metropolitan area. Earlier this year, the company was awarded a blanket purchase agreement to provide LMRs to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, as well as the FBI Training Academy.

Interoperability in public safety has historically been achieved through an ancillary system of equipment. This system is required because today’s land mobile radios are limited to single frequency bands, making it difficult for federal agencies and local public safety officials to talk to each other. The Unity XG-100 will enable emergency personnel to communicate directly without having to carry multiple radios or route transmissions through ad-hoc network bridges.

In April 2009, Harris announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire the Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems business (formerly known as M/A-COM), an established provider of mission-critical wireless communications systems for law enforcement, fire and rescue, and public service organizations. This purchase of Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems creates a dynamic new organization that will provide end-to-end wireless network solutions to the growing $9 billion global land-mobile radio systems market.

Kenwood USA Corp.

Kenwood USA Corp., Communications Sector, based in Suwanee, GA, is a leader in mobile and portable two-way radios and custom systems. Kenwood focuses on equipment and systems primarily for voice and data that operate in the private land mobile two-way radio spectrum. For broadband wireless solutions on projects, according to Joe Watts, product manager at Kenwood, “There are many capable vendors offering established technologies we use as an integrated solution on specialized projects.” Watts explained that emerging broadband technologies like WI-MAX do offer some exciting possibilities, and the market is likely to be dominated by commercial carriers. It’s too early to tell how and to what extent, if any, two-way radio manufacturers will be able to participate, according to Watts.

Kenwood offers two-way voice and data systems for analog conventional and analog trunked (LTR®, MPT-1327, PassPort™) and digital (NEXEDGE™ /NXDN® and P25). They offer integrated medium-duty workforce mobile data and GPS AVL solutions with partner vendor hardware and software solution providers on specialized projects. “We have found video solutions, such as those for fixed security and in-car recording, are best handled by those [companies] that specialize in those segments,” Watts commented.

NEXEDGE™ is the Kenwood brand for its digital radio systems using the NXDN® digital air interface. It is composed of a digital radio communications protocol using 4-Level FSK (4LFSK) modulation capable of operating on 12.5 and 6.25 kHz channel bandwidths. NXDN access methodology is classified as FDMA (Frequency Division Multiple Access). In addition, NEXEDGE uses the AMBE+2™ VOCODER, a state-of-the-art voice digitization and compression technology offering enhanced Forward Error Correction and noise reduction for clarity at varying signal strengths.

Watts said Kenwood’s digital NEXEDGE/NXDN solution embeds GPS data for AVL systems with voice in the digital common air interface so the user’s two voice communications are not interrupted by GPS modem data sessions and AVL data transmission occurs totally transparent to the mobile user.

Kenwood’s NEXEDGE/NXDN subscriber and system equipment were designed with analog to digital migration in mind. The subscriber equipment supports analog, conventional, analog trunked and NXDN digital conventional and trunked, thereby being able to operate on both analog and NXDN digital systems. NEXEDGE subscriber units and base stations can operate in conventional “mixed mode” where both analog and NXDN digital fleet can share the same channel. In addition, the NEXEDGE digital trunked systems have hardware and software provisions to permit legacy analog conventional and analog trunked fleets to share the system’s traffic channels. This allows analog fleets to continue to be served while transitioning to digital.

According to Watts, Kenwood maintains a full staff of phone support technicians and field trainers out of its Long Beach, CA Kenwood USA headquarters for dealership and end-use customer support. “Most Kenwood-installed systems are launched together with the customer and our systems department technicians and project engineers,” Watts said. Hands-on-training is done after final production system staging at Kenwood and/ or on-site at the customer’s installation location.

Kenwood NEXEDGE digital systems offer several tiers of security. The digital air interface provides an inherent level of security, thus preventing casual interception and eavesdropping (versus easily intercepted analog radio). All subscriber units include a basic voice / data scrambling feature and “We also offer high-level encryption options to thwart sophisticated adversaries,” Watts noted. The system is secured by management software that uses encrypted files, USB hardware keys and passwords to limit IT access operational programming and subscriber unit privileging is available to authorized staff only. Subscriber units can be validated in the system by virtue of unit ID and talk group ID permitting the operator to provision and re-provision permanent, temporary and seasonal subscribers as changes require. In addition, similar to cellular, the subscriber units have a unique, one-of-a-kind, embedded electronic serial number (ESN), permitting system access to only authorized subscriber unit “hardware.” A lost, stolen or compromised subscriber unit can be invalidated and a replacement unit issued while preserving the original authorized user’s unit ID and talk groups.

NEXEDGE radio sites are IP linked to form wide-area radio networks and any enterprise can utilize their existing IT assets such as LANs, WANs, private microwave and carrier services to transport and manage their private radio communications just as they do their data and VoIP telephony. Since radio communication operations are frequently becoming folded into or under IT telecom departments, NEXEDGE offers IT managers a shorter learning curve and higher comfort level when anticipating, planning and budgeting for future IP asset needs. Watts also said since radio is now “essentially just data,” IT assets can be optimized and expanded to provide the required bandwidth, quality of service, and uptime required for all the enterprise’s telecommunications.

Looking ahead and migrating toward IP, “NEXEDGE radio sites are IP linked, future P25 system offerings will be IP linked, and most all of our dispatch communications console vendors that we use in turn-key system projects offer IP- capable products,” Watts stated. The migration is well under way.

Raytheon Co.

Raytheon Co. brings more than 80 years of experience working hand in hand with U.S. military and first responders to implement seamless communications solutions. Combining its innovative technology and systems integration expertise enables Raytheon to meet customer demands now and in the future.

One of the biggest challenges facing public safety today is the need to integrate stand-alone solutions to achieve interoperability. Known for its integration experience, Raytheon specializes in delivering complex systems that are based on open standards. By taking advantage of open standards, such as session initiation protocol (SIP) and P25, existing technologies and systems can be leveraged to build in scalability from the start, emphasizing fast deployment and implementation while reducing new capital expenditures. Its interoperable solution provides a platform of applications and services to public safety that includes radio interoperability, mobile broadband communications, video conferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and a multimedia communications system.

“Raytheon understands that first responders need a reliable system they can depend on to perform as needed every time. This NoDoubt® performance promise is a fundamental philosophy of our approach for addressing interoperability,” said Brian Rodriguez, capture manager at Raytheon.

“We are committed to delivering open-standards solutions to provide public safety agencies with a comprehensive, reliable and cost-effective communications solution that will meet their communications requirements during daily operations and large-scale critical response.”

Raytheon’s products allow for affordable innovative technology solutions that combine existing user equipment, broadband requirements and ad-hoc networks to ensure complete interoperability. Representatives work closely with the agency in order to facilitate the customers’ needs without the expense of a complete “forklift” upgrade.

An example of a unique interoperability product from Raytheon is the ACU-2000 IP, a radio bridging interface and switching system. This complete interoperability system provides an SIP-based gateway to digitally converge existing radio systems with SIP telephones, networks and devices.

The ACU-2000 IP allows customers to bring all of the advantages of the open-standards SIP to their radio systems and add radio functionality to a network. The ACU-2000 IP is modular, completely scalable and field configurable. The system joins disparate communications systems, which can be connected, monitored and controlled over an IP network. The benefits of the ACU-2000 IP include that VoIP devices can seamlessly connect to land mobile radios (LMR); two-way radio users can take advantage of features traditionally available only to telephone users; agencies can control a large interoperability system via IP; the ability exists to connect radio systems at multiple sites across an IP network; radio channel or frequency over IP can be remotely changed; and the distributed network design ensures continuity of local operations in the event of network failure.

In addition to providing gateway technology, Raytheon’s P25net solution eases the migration to the P25 standard by delivering a robust and affordable P25 IP network-based radio system to public safety agencies. Raytheon has always maintained that the customer dictates the requirements and Raytheon provides the solution. With interoperability at the core, Raytheon’s P25net allows agencies to cost effectively migrate over to an IP-based P25 system without having large startup capital costs. Raytheon is able to migrate legacy user equipment onto the P25net system, thus making upgrades more affordable and user friendly. This enables agencies to transition almost seamlessly to the end user while reducing training and support costs. Raytheon also leverages open standards in order to integrate voice, data and video communications.

“Taking advantage of best-of-breed technology that operates on a standards-based IP platform enables Raytheon to provide first responders and private industry with an affordable P25 radio system,” said Janet Holt, P25net product manager for Raytheon.

Raytheon deployed the P25net system to Canadian-based ATCO Electric with an APCO Project 25 (P25) radio solution that enables public utility personnel to easily share information in real time. Raytheon has delivered an 80-site P25net digital trunked radio communications system and provides system integration services, including project management, installation, training and 24-hour technical support. The system includes additional components from Advanced Digital Systems Inc. and Tait Radio Communications. Developed in conjunction with Etherstack, the P25net can be used with its P25 all-IP infrastructure software to build a complete wide-area P25 network that is fully compliant with the P25 standards.

Along with P25net and the interoperability of the ACU-2000 IP, Raytheon’s digital in-car video system (DVU-1000), developed by Votan Research Corp., makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to capture evidence-admissible video and audio recordings without human intervention. The DVU-1000 allows high-quality MPEG-4 ASP video to be recorded at D1 resolution, with triggering by emergency lights, gun locks, vehicle speed and many other agency configurable activities. The system is GPS interface capable as well. The frontline officers never touch the video storage media. Upon returning to the station, the wireless downloading begins, which reduces information technology support and training.

The Raytheon Evidentiary Media Server (EMS) software allows for online storage, facilitates viewing, organizing and augmenting the evidentiary record. Only authorized users can view the video segments on the server in preparation for court appearances, with a complete audit trail and logs compliant with the chain of custody regulations. Video can be searched in many ways via date, time, shift, officer, race code, offense code, record trigger and vehicle. The DVU-1000 system is a very clean and simple solution for agencies looking for a cost-effective digital video application.

Ultimately, interoperability is all about multi-agency coordination, situational awareness and incident management. Raytheon’s integration expertise and use of open standards technology provides public safety agencies with the flexibility and scalability necessary to meet the complex requirements of day-to-day operations and critical incident management.

Looking Ahead

The P25 standard was created by and for public safety professionals in North America under state, local and federal representatives and Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) governance. P25 is gaining worldwide acceptance for public safety, security, public service and commercial applications. The published P25 standards suite is administered by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA Mobile and Personal Private Radio Standards Committee TR-8). This means any vendor’s P25 product that is able to meet a set of minimum requirements to fit the needs of public safety must include the ability to interoperate with other P25 equipment regardless of manufacturer. The P25 systems available today are being deployed globally. Many organizations have mandated that new land mobile radio system purchases follow P25 standards. P25 is ongoing. The standard continues to evolve as the needs of users and the capabilities of new technology advance. Both users and manufacturers have an important role to play in shaping P25.

There are actually two phases of P25 development: Phase 1, which specifies a 12.5 kHz bandwidth, is for the most part completed. Phase 2 deals with the overall lack of spectrum and increasing demand. It will use a 6.25 kHz equivalent bandwidth to allow better spectrum efficiency and benefit a greater number of users.

Overall, the P25 land-mobile radio vendor community has worked well together in order to provide the frontline users a safe and effective two-way communications platform that should serve public safety well for years to come. The hard part for public safety agencies is deciding what’s right for their unique requirements and specific deployment given the vast choices available today.

Brad Brewer is a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department. He can be reached at brad.brewer@vpd.ca.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2009

Rating : 7.0


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