First, some background. Since the 1990s, public safety and federal radio communications spectrum requirements have increased dramatically as the need for more communication talk paths, more data channels, and more connectivity is required by a growing universe of government agencies and first responders.
To keep up with this voracious appetite for additional channels, talk groups, and network capacity, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency have allocated spectrum in a variety of different frequency bands from 30 to 870 MHz. The first band was 30 to 50 MHz, which is still in use today by many agencies. Then, a progressive series of bands at higher frequencies was released from 136 to 174 MHz, 402 to 420 MHz, 450 to 470 MHz, 470 to 520 MHz, 800 MHz, and most recently, 380 to 400 MHz and 700 MHz bands. Each band has been accessed using a separate, specific, single-band radio. The traditional RF components and radio design approaches limited an economically viable design to a single band for each portable radio.
Existing solutions just did not work. Although patching and switching equipment was available, and there was a common over-the-air standard under the APCO Project 25 (P25) effort, there were still no single transceivers available that could operate in all of the bands. It remained common for incident commanders and personnel to be carrying two, three, or even four radios in order to communicate with each other.
In your hand
What will the right solution look like? Technology advancements and software-defined radio (SDR) techniques developed for the military now make it possible to have a single, portable multi-band radio (MBR) that operates on all of the primary public safety frequency bands, as well as bands used by the Department of Defense (DoD), federal agencies, and Marine frequencies used on the waterways. This new type of portable radio will also allow multi-mode operation on older legacy analog FM systems, newer P25 digital systems (both trunked and conventional), and will operate in both clear and encrypted modes using P25-specified 256 bit key Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption.
Using a new MBR, Channel 1 can be defined for a regional P25 trunking system, Channel 2 for a VHF analog channel used by a local volunteer fire department, Channel 3 for a UHF EMS frequency, Channel 4 for a P25 digital Federal Government frequency, and Channel 5 for a 700 MHz trunked system in a bordering municipality. Effectively, MBR brings interoperability in the palm of an officer's hand and a new tool to coordinate multi-agency response across multiple land mobile radio (LMR) systems.
With 2.2 million first responders in the United States today, it is the expectation that each one will be able to connect with other personnel on scene, as well as with dispatch centers, with clear, reliable voice and data communications. Lives are at stake, and the radio is an essential tool to accomplish the mission. In many cases, the agency's needs go beyond this traditional use, and radio communications are used to coordinate the response of law enforcement, EMS, fire, transportation and federal agencies as they team to manage, direct and give aid at terrorist incidents, large sporting events, or natural disasters. The MBR can be a useful tool in the coordination of multiple agency resources for large regional events.
Many law enforcement agencies are involved in special task force operations. These groups successfully combine the resources and unique expertise of a variety of agencies and personnel to address specific criminal elements and threats. The MBR creates a tool that allows these groups to operate and share channels on their home systems, as well as new systems to which they may travel for support.