Mobile Radio (LMR) has been in use with Public Safety for many decades and has
seen significant technological advancements such as trunking. However, much
greater changes are on the horizon. Although not quite at the pace of consumer
electronics, more recent LMR advancements have been nothing short of amazing
given the technology that was available in the early 1990s.
particular bias to any vendor, each LMR manufacturer has strengths and
weaknesses. In the end, each delivers a similar product that serves Public
Safety well. The differences in features are what distinguish the LMR vendors
from one another. This enables agencies to make choices based more on features than
the core technology.
argue Harris makes a better switch and backend, while Motorola makes superior
user equipment. That is a purely subjective call. Only your agency-specific
requirements and evaluation process can dictate what works for you. Harris and
Motorola are mentioned only because these are the most common two platforms.
Obviously, other LMR options are available.
evolution of the Project 25 standard, commonly referred to as P25, is resulting
in Public Safety replacing their proprietary networks, such as EDACS and Smart
Zone to name a few. Most people that work in the LMR technical field agree that
P25 is a solution that will continue to serve Public Safety for a number of
years. P25 will evolve as Public Safety communication needs change.
is primarily used for voice communication and some limited data applications
such as over-the-air programming (OTAP) and over-the-air rekeying (OTAR). The
limiting factor in P25 is a result of the digital communication path bandwidth.
As with all technologies, data bandwidth demands are constantly increasing.
Shift to LTE
major LMR vendors are shifting their focus to Long Term Evolution (LTE)
push-to-talk technology. LTE is well established in the consumer smartphone
market, enabling not only voice, but very high-speed data applications that
just a short time ago were not possible. Enhanced data technology is one of the
main driving forces that make LTE attractive to Public Safety.
LMR traditionally requires the use of user-specific equipment, LTE enables the
use of smartphone-sized handheld devices as a replacement for normally larger
and much heavier LMR subscriber equipment. To be fair, most of the LMR P25
vendors have worked diligently in trying to reduce the size of their user
equipment, as well as adding features like GPS and data transfer in some fairly
small form factors. However, the technology limits these changes.
a down side to this, though. The reason those LMR portables are larger is
because they typically have a transmit power of 3-5 watts compared to LTE
devices at roughly 1 watt. Lower transmit power of the LTR device translates
into a much higher radio site density and potentially higher infrastructure
upside to the portable equipment is the much smaller size offering greater
concealment potential, longer battery life, and numerous wide-bandwidth data
LMR sites are typically stand-alone sites strategically located as a result of
extensive radio-frequency (RF) engineering studies. A typical radio site can
represent a million dollars or more depending on the location and complexity. Although
requiring a greater number of physical locations, LTE sites generally require
less physical space and power, resulting in the location opportunities being
much more flexible.
build out an LTE private government system restricted to Public Safety only,
then who is paying for that? Will it be built to disaster standards? Typically,
this is the most expensive option, but what if the infrastructure is built out
for not just Public Safety but local government utilities as well?
Police/Fire/Ambulance partnering with municipal utilities is something that has
been done successfully in the past, so it is still a good cost-effective option
if done correctly.
alternative may be piggybacking on the commercial networks. However, what about
throttling? Will the commercial carriers allow priority to Public Safety? If so,
how much and at what times? How do you determine performance standards during
peak usage hours? Does the front line officer’s ability to receive fingerprints
or mugshots in the field get reduced or slowed because of system data load at
peak periods? There are lots of issues that need to be sorted out before either
can be evaluated fairly by front line officers and technical staff who support
Motorola’s Best of Both Worlds
there was something that captured the best of both worlds but builds off
existing P25 systems? Motorola is now offering a product called LEX, a
ruggedized and compact handheld device designed to deliver data, photos, video
and voice quickly, reliably and securely over multiple networks. LEX builds on
the LTE design by offering PTT much the same as P25 but with the high-bandwidth
capability in a much smaller package than traditional LMR radios.
At the IACP 2013, Motorola demonstrated this new system called “Unified PTT”
using a Samsung Galaxy SIII exactly the same as the smartphone some officers carry
today. The Unified PTT function and P25 technologies enable Public Safety the
opportunity to communicate seamlessly across networks. The uncluttered user
interface with a big push-to-talk button and a few menu items enables the user
to set call priority and some other customizable elements. The user is able to
scan multiple talk-groups and technical staff can set multiple permissions so
customization is very flexible.
Motorola has done is essentially allowed every police manger the ability to
stay connected to any priority or incident back home regardless of their
location. That is connected with real-time PTT communications with the officers
back at their department. Think about the SWAT commander, the gang unit
lieutenant, or another key member of the department who has to, for whatever
reason, leave the range of their LMR coverage area.
application can allow scanning of multiple talk-groups, for the Public Safety
leader who oversees Fire, Police and EMS, and
set the monitoring priorities. You can also set permissions to include into the
P25 conversation, either ad hoc or ongoing for the partners you have in the
second-responder community. Consider the scenario with a Chief of a University
PD, commercial and retail security staff, as well as public utilities and
public works, all of whom can be vital in a mass-emergency scenario.
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Harris’ BeOn Convergence
another major player in Public Safety communications, has been providing P25
LMR PTT for a number of years. The relatively new Harris BeOn app/service is
available for devices operating on Android, iOS, and Microsoft Windows, and
runs on broadband networks from 3G and 4G commercial cellular to muni WiFi
and/or dedicated public safety LTE.
in 2010, the Harris BeOn solution delivers full Push-to-Talk (PTT) to any
smartphone, tablet, or PC operating on a broadband network anywhere in the
world where one (or more) of those above mentioned data services is
At the IACP
2013, David Simon, Project Manager for BeOn at Harris, explained that the
company had recognized very early on the massive potential represented by the
convergence of traditional land mobile radio (LMR) systems and the promise of
LTE. “While LMR is the proven technology for first responder communications,
radio coverage is inherently limited by geographic coverage area,” Simon said.
collaboratively by Harris’ LMR and LTE divisions, BeOn bridges any such gaps. “BeOn
is designed from the ground up to turn your smartphone into a P25 radio,” Simon
elaborated. According to Simon, the BeOn app is the first professional
push-to-talk (PTT) solution for First Responders to enable enterprises to “have
managed group communications anywhere in the world.”
emphasis on providing constant connectivity for senior leadership—regardless of
their physical location, the combination of LMR and LTE PTT applications
provides tremendous connectivity capabilities, enabling command staff and other
critical team members to participate in incident communications or monitor
situations even outside of their traditional radio service area.
are numerous Public Safety agencies across the Untied States already using BeOn
with this capability as a top-of-mind benefit. Again, one of the primary
drivers for BeOn adoption is the ability for administrators, who often find
themselves outside of the radio coverage area, to be able to respond to
incidents regardless of their location.
be used by administrators to maintain radio coverage while they are out of
radio system range. BeOn technology is best suited for 4G service and Samsung
G4S phones, but in early 2014, the iOS version appeared, allowing the
application to be available to potentially all employees using the iPhone and
In addition to traditional P25 radio features, BeOn also enables presence, geo-location,
and situational awareness features. When used in conjunction with a Harris
radio system, BeOn can show the location of both BeOn devices as well as
GPS-equipped LMR units.
the Harris VIDA network, BeOn provides a connection between existing P25 radio
systems and other IP networks. It is likely the first application to support
managed group and push-to-talk communications utilizing most consumer
to Harris, the core feature set mimics the P25 standard. Unlike other generic
cellular PTT applications, BeOn contains the industry-standard P25 vocoder,
which improves voice quality when communicating with P25 land mobile radios,
significantly enhances PTT speed, and enables end-to-end encryption between
BeOn smartphones and radios.
application consists of a server with its own firewall that is linked directly
into the radio backbone on one side, and the IP network on the other. Each
BeOn server can handle up to 5,000 users and recognizes logical talk-groups
established in the digital radio system, allowing designated users to
communicate over managed channels much like a traditional digital radio. BeOn-equipped
smartphone user IDs and talk-group permissions are administered from the same
user interface as radios “making administration far simpler than other
solutions, which require manual synchronization of databases,” Simon stated.
Voice communications is just one of the many features that make BeOn an
attractive platform. Mapping has tremendous potential for incident commanders
who now have the ability to track the location of their officers from a command
vehicle during an incident.
advantages are offered by not only mapping BeOn users, but, the ability to map
an officer’s location via land mobile radio. The ability to integrate
geo-tracking with PTT from PCs and phones provides real advantages in terms of
response efficiency and safety.
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enforcement, covert operations or surveillance doesn’t lend itself well to
concealing the large LMR portable radios. You are not going to do undercover
work with a traditional radio on your hip, but having a Bluetooth-connected
mic/earbuds and a mobile phone in your pocket is certainly an option, provided
the hardware meets the FIPS 140 standards.
of what your agency is using today for voice and data communications, there are
many options available that can piggyback on existing systems. What is even
more impressive is how well vendors like Motorola and Harris have integrated
the best of LMR and LTE in some very impressive packages.
Sergeant Brad Brewer
is a 26-year member of the Vancouver Police Department. He sits on the Ford
Police Advisory Board and regularly gives presentations at law enforcement
conferences on mobile computing, wireless technology and police vehicle
ergonomics. He can be reached at email@example.com.