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Colorado's Statewide Interoperable Radio System

Written by James Careless

Everybody all on the same network, all able to talk to one another. That’s the dream of interoperability, and something that the state of Colorado is well on its way to achieving, thanks to its statewide Digital Trunked Radio System (DTRS). The development of the statewide system began in 1991 with the formation of a users group tasked with the development of the system and operational requirement plan. The final plan was completed in 1995 and legislation adopted in 1998 for the funding and system implementation.

Establishing partnerships with local government agencies has played a huge role in the success of the system. The partnerships have resulted in the formation of the Consolidated Communications Network of Colorado (CCNC). Today, CCNC is the user organization that works in partnership with the state in the operation, planning, funding maintenance and governance of the system.

Today, the DTRS is online and serving all state agencies and more than 400 local, federal and tribal agencies, covering more than 24,000 radios in all. Granted, there are some counties that remain to be connected to the DTRS, but many are getting online as funds permit.

Project 25-Compliant, All The Way

Designed to replace a series of analog VHF and UHF radio networks, Colorado’s DTRS is built upon Project 25 digital radio technology, operating in the 700/800 MHz band.

Colorado’s decision to choose Project 25 (P25) technology—an open standards format that can be bought from many vendors—came after the Division of Telecommunications recognized the need for different types of radios, not only for different types of uses, but to keep the cost of the equipment affordable for smaller agencies.

The tiered state contracts also allow for more competition from both large and small companies, which also helps keep equipment costs down. Smaller agencies can further reduce the cost of new equipment by buying their radios through the state contracts. This gives small agencies the same buying power as the state.

As the original systems supplier, Motorola’s ASTRO P25 radios were accepted for DTRS use early in the process. Since then, other manufacturers such as EF Johnson, Kenwood, and most recently M/A-COM have submitted their P25 products to the state for testing and approval.

In M-A/COM’s case, “The state took our software-defined P7100IP family of radios and tested them on the state’s infrastructure,” said Paul May, M/A-COM’s business development manager. Once the state officials verified the operation, they began the process of adding them to the list of qualified radio products available for purchase and use on DTRS.

True Statewide Coverage and Connections

As the eighth largest state, Colorado covers 104,091 square miles; much of it in the Rocky Mountains. To ensure that its DTRS reaches everyone in this vast area—or up to 95% of it—the state and local governments have deployed its Motorola ASTRO 700/800 MHz trunked radio system across 115 transmission sites, with an additional 54 sites planned and funded and 20 dispatch centers equipped with Motorola Gold Elite dispatch consoles.

Now, if this were a perfect world, all of Colorado’s public safety radio users would simply upgrade to P25 800 MHz. This would allow them to plug into the DTRS, to interconnect to other agencies with ease. However, this is not a perfect world, which is why the DTRS plan includes options for interoperability to other systems and frequency bands.

As for VHF users? To connect them to the DTRS, any state patrol dispatch center can create interoperable patches using the National Law Enforcement Emergency Channel (NLEEC). NLEEC will remain in place in all state patrol communications centers for interoperability with VHF users. DTRS is also connected to an interoperable gateway that provides 12 dedicated interoperable talk groups with all of the M/A-COM EDACS systems and a few VHF and UHF systems in the Denver metro area.

By choosing P25 technology and combining it with true statewide coverage, the state of Colorado has come up with an interoperability solution that works. Granted, it’s not the only way to make interoperability happen, but for other jurisdictions wondering how to solve their communications issues, Colorado’s DTRS is worth a serious look.

M/A-COM’s 7100IP Series of Radios

The 7100IP series of M/A-COM radios are P25-compliant digital mobiles (M7100IP) and portables (P7100IP) that can handle voice and IP (Internet Protocol) data transmissions. They can be configured to work in EDACS (Enhanced Digital Access Communications System) or ProVoice trunked modes. The 7100IP can also function using applications such as P25 Digital Conventional, P25 Trunking, DES Encryption, and AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).

All of the P7100IP are built to meet MIL-STD-810F standards for ruggedness, including withstanding drops up to 1 meter in height. Weighing 21 ounces each, the P7100IP series can store up to 800 trunked system/group combinations and up to 400 conventional channels. They can also store up to 99 individual call numbers and 99 telephone numbers in their onboard memories.

It is fair to say that M/A-COM’s 7100IP is solid proof of this company’s commitment to P25 technology; especially because M/A-COM’s P25 line runs the gamut from portables and mobiles to transmitters and dispatch consoles.

“We feel it’s important that public safety agencies to have choices in the radios that they carry with them,” said John Facella, M/A-COM’s public safety market director, in the M/A-COM news release that announced the Colorado DTRS type approval. “This recent recognition from the state of Colorado proves that our P25 portable and mobile radios can operate on another vendor’s P25 system. This is only the latest in a series of tests that we have been doing for many months on other systems in Phoenix, Louisville, Michigan, several military bases, and other locations, to ensure that the promise of P25 interoperability among different vendors’ radios has been kept.”

Denver’s Interoperability Solution

The Denver Police Department has dealt with interoperability in a different manner than the state of Colorado. Rather that put all of its users on a single system, the DPD has selected M/A-COM’s NetworkFirst to integrate existing incompatible radio systems so that they can communicate without problems.

As previously reported in LAW and ORDER magazine, NetworkFirst is a software platform that acts as a voice over IP switch (VoIP), interconnecting incompatible radio systems in the same way Ma Bell interconnects telephone subscribers. To do this, each radio system sends audio into a NetworkFirst voice gateway, where it is converted into IP data packets. The packets then are routed into a NetworkFirst Switching Center that handles moving the traffic between each of the radio networks.

The DPS adopted NetworkFirst after M/A-COM test-deployed it by connecting 13 incompatible local, state, and federal radio systems. Today, the DPD’s NetworkFirst system is patched into the state’s DTRS, ensuring that city and state officers can talk at all times. To do so, the DPD signed a $2 million contract with M/A-COM. At first, this sounds expensive, but it was cheaper than every participating agency having to buy new radios and move to some kind of shared radio band.

James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He can be reached at jcareless5000@yahoo.com.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2006

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