Interoperable communications in the palm of your hand

Technology advancements now make it possible to have a single, portable multi-band radio (MBR) that operates on all of the primary public safety frequency bands.


What other capabilities would an MBR solution bring to help us meet our interoperability challenges? First, being able to take advantage of existing infrastructure and also operate without infrastructure is key. The right solution would bridge between established regional P25 trunked systems and conventional radio users from adjacent municipalities using other bands.


Flexible deployment is also essential, e.g., the ability to serve a single incident commander, a group of commanders, all squad leaders, and/or every team member as required. This means that communications interoperability improvements could be delivered across the broad cross-section of users, from the smallest rural agencies to the largest urban systems.


Ease of use is a priority as well. The radio must be easy to operate and be quick to deploy. The familiarity that users would have with MBR technologies used in day-to-day operations would, in crisis situations, be life-saving.


With maximum spectrum utilization, local users who have moved to 800 MHz systems, but have kept older VHF and UHF conventional frequencies for back-up, would be able to access all of these bands for additional talk paths. Federal users who have been frustrated by VHF spectrum crowding are now free to use the 402 to 420 MHz band along with their traditional VHF channels in a single portable radio.


Many government agencies have created caches of portable radios maintained, preprogrammed, and at the ready to use for incidents and natural disasters. The MBR is perfect for this application as it gives the users the ability to reach out to other responding agencies regardless of band. In addition, if radio system infrastructure is destroyed or off the air, the user has the ability to connect in alternative frequency bands that are still operational.


A well-defined set of mutual aid channels, now with standardized channel names, exists nationwide for Public Safety and Federal Agency communications interoperability. This new radio will be able to host these channels in all of the major frequency bands to create immediate multi-agency communications links at an incident scene.


Technology is only part of the interoperability solution. Well-developed communications plans for incidents, natural disasters, and multi-agency cooperation at large public events are essential. Training for personnel at all levels is required to prepare in advance. Memoranda of Understanding for shared channels between agencies and operations are now in place in many regions of the country to support these plans.


In addition, radio manufacturers must be committed to formal testing and to ensuring that the most reliable communications equipment is being provided to Law Enforcement. Performance, emissions, intrinsic safe, P25 Compliance Assessment Program (CAP), and encryption are the baseline certifications and approvals that users should look for. The P25 CAP tests, for example, provide a means of verifying that radio equipment meets the P25 standard and will be interoperable in P25 systems. Federal grant dollars are being invested in standardized solutions that promote interoperability for the more than 60,000 emergency response agencies nationwide.


One such solution now in the hands of first responders is Thales Communications’ LibertyTM multi-band, multi-mode, software-defined radio. Thales has leveraged more than 10 years of P25 Public Safety experience and an unequaled SDR technology base serving DoD to develop the Liberty radio.  In early 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Science and Technology Directorate, had awarded a contract to Thales to demonstrate a single MBR that enables emergency responders to communicate with partner agencies, regardless of the radio band on which they operate.  That radio, the Liberty radio, became the first multi-band radio covering the entire Public Safety spectrum to be approved by the FCC.  It operates across all the Public Safety bands (136-174 MHz, 380-520 MHz, 700 MHz, and 800 MHz) and in all modes (P25 conventional, P25 trunked, and legacy analog). It offers Output Feedback Data Encryption Standard (OFB DES) and AES with over-the-air-rekey for secure communications.  Mil Spec rugged, the Liberty radio is submersible to two meters. 

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