Radio communication's bandwidth melting pot

     The need to provide first responders with an improved system for interoperable communications remains an urgent national priority, despite the painful lessons of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Even with the attention being paid to interoperability...

     Political developments support the shift at this time. Multiband radios make it easier to build regional communications systems, such as the one proposed for Los Angeles County. A single multiband radio can communicate with any of the radio towers within a particular region. For example, Los Angeles recently deployed New York-based Harris Communications radio systems during the Great Southern California Shakeout, the country's largest-ever earthquake drill. Among the radios deployed were systems that would allow public safety officials to quickly restore emergency communications in cases of damage to existing infrastructure.

     A trend toward merged response systems is also driving the demand for multiband technology. The U.S. Department of Interior, for instance, has proposed a project in which its agents would share the use of Montana's statewide public safety communications system, which is under development. Key to the success of this proposal is the availability of compatible radios. Multiband radios would allow users to connect to each system, regardless of frequency band. Montana, neighboring states and provinces in Canada face vast interoperability challenges by virtue of a shared 550-mile border. These states have engaged with a long list of agencies to coordinate activities, ranging from state and local law enforcement on both sides of the border, to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI.

Already in use

     One model where multiband, multimode radios are being used today is one most people keep very close - mobile telephones. Mobile phones operate in a very similar fashion to trunked land mobile radios, using frequencies between 850 MHz and 1900 MHz in the United States, and providing global support for FDMA, CDMA, TDMA and GSM modes. This built-in flexibility extends coverage across the globe.

     Perhaps a better explanation is the transition to multiband radios for tactical military communications, which has greatly improved interoperability on the battlefield. As recently as 10 years ago, military radios were almost all single-banded radios. But as the speed of war increased, joint operations were required to stay ahead of the enemy, thus increasing the need for improved communication and coordination. Special Forces, in particular, led the call for an integrated solution - one radio, one battery. Today, the U.S. Department of Defense and Ministries of Defence around the world have standardized multiband, multimode communications, providing new and extended capabilities for ground-to-ground, ground-to-air and ground-to-satellite communications.

     And yet, a number of myths still exist about multiband radios - namely, that they are too expensive and consume too much power to be useful in an operational context. In point of fact, the price of a multiband handheld radio in use by the U.S. military is very comparable to the price of some higher-tier land mobile radios today. What's more, since a multiband radio can support multiple frequencies, customers would need to purchase multiple single channel radios to accomplish the same level of interoperability, further driving up procurement costs.

     Likewise, new electronics, battery technologies and advanced power-management techniques have extended multiband radios' battery life to meet critical mission times - often in excess of 12 hours per cycle. With these compelling advantages in mind, companies are investing in the development of software-defined, multiband radio products designed for everyday use by public safety personnel.

     Harris' Unity XG-100 is one example of a radio that delivers reliable interoperable communications to the user. It provides full-spectrum coverage, from VHF through the 800-MHz band, plus support for the APCO P25 waveform in both conventional and trunking modes, with the ability to upgrade to P25 Phase 2 standards.

     The radio also offers a range of advanced capabilities, such as embedded GPS for location reporting, situational awareness and cognitive radio; Bluetooth connectivity; premier noise suppression; and a leading software-defined architecture for emerging requirements.

     In a typical Unity XG-100-type operational scenario, federal agencies responding to a scene would be operating on VHF high bands; local or state police on UHF digital; fire on UHF analog; and EMS on 800-MHz digital. Using a single radio, these agencies would all be able to talk and work as one - coordinating their rescue efforts to focus on operational planning and execution rather than establishing communications.

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