Our previous post how to protect and strengthen your LMR system introduces the new guide available for download. The guide investigates every aspect of wireless communications, and considers how operators might make their LMR systems more resilient. This article ‘Technology choice’ makes up the first chapter in the series.
A radio system is a considerable investment which may have a decades-long lifespan. Operators must ensure that their choices allow their communications to mature and adapt, as their needs and the available technologies evolve.
Genuine open standards bring real advantages to operators, guaranteeing choice, lowering costs and improving communications. Because they are non- proprietary, they are not under the control of any one vendor. And an increasing choice of certified vendors brings down prices, improves technical quality and avoids the risk of being locked in to a sole supplier.
Developed with the active participation of radio vendors, digital radio standards are dynamic and expanding, driven by evolving needs in sync with other digital technologies such as computer networks and VoIP.
For LMR system operators, this means:
• getting the best from your available radio spectrum,
• communicating more efficiently within your organization and with other networks ,
• a competitive market with many different manufacturers and vendors participating,
• technology platforms that are easy to use.
Interoperating securely with other organizations or agencies – sheriff, fire, hospitals, police – cannot be successfully achieved with analog equipment, without sacrificing security.
System level interoperability
Ideally, equipment designed and produced to a standard by one vendor will interoperate seamlessly with the same standard equipment from another vendor. However, there is often a difference in interpretation of a standard, and vendors may also add proprietary features not covered by the standard itself.
When choosing a vendor, look for standardized interoperability test procedures, and carefully scrutinize certification documents to avoid incompatibilities. For example, the P25 Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) provides independent compatibility testing that certifies standards compliance between equipment manufacturers.
Interoperability for mutual aid
Radio systems can operate with differing levels of interoperability, depending on priority and need. For example, Public Safety Task Forces will need the highest level, while routine operations require less interoperability – from sharing systems to simply swapping radios.
In a collective response to a catastrophic accident or disaster – wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, aircraft crashes – tactical communications between groups will be required at some level between public safety, utilities and local bodies and independent organizations.
Trunked or conventional?
One of the barriers to transitioning to a digital trunking platform is that they are often perceived as complex and expensive. As a consequence, some operators select the familiar, conventional technology when upgrading. Since there is a lower initial CAPEX investment, a conventional system’s upfront cost may indeed be less. However this does not take account of the considerable long term financial and operational advantages of a trunked system.
The increased spectral efficiency of current digital trunked systems creates a platform for dedicated digital channels, future-proofing communications as organizations become increasingly dependent on data transmission alongside their LMR voice systems.
Multi-channel trunked radio sites provide inherent protection from channel failure; if a channel goes down, the remaining channels will automatically adjust to maintain normal trunked operation. Traffic handling capacity will be reduced, but radio users don’t need to take any special action to maintain communication, as the channel controller always selects a channel from those available. Users will normally be unaware of the failure, so they can continue to carry out their duties without interruption.
Dispelling the complexity myth
Trunked radio systems are more technically advanced and therefore they may seem more complex. However, to the operator and the user, most of this complexity is concealed and automated by the trunking controller which controls the system. Once installed and configured, on a day-to-day basis a trunked system is demonstrably less complex, less demanding of your technical resource and more accessible to your workforce.
Traffic is managed and automated to ensure smooth allocation of channel resource, optimizing channel capacity, accommodating more users on fewer channels (compared to conventional systems). Private communications with talk groups, authorized system access and encryption options protect your communications from eavesdroppers.
Planning for the future
Every technology decision needs to prepare you for increasing data applications that will influence how you operate in the future.
Currently, the most basic application remains effective voice communication, but now mobile applications share information, video and text between the field and the back office, often simultaneously sharing different information with multiple operatives. A new generation of field workers demand the choice of durable, smart mobile devices to gain immediate access to this rich source of information.
This brings a new set of challenges for operators, including:
- the use of personal smartphones and tablets – Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),
- policies and SOPs that define and enforce mobile device use,
- vulnerabilities and security issues associated with mobile devices,
- finding, developing and using appropriate applications on mobile devices,
- managing data usage to avoid budget overruns,
- encouraging user adoption of applications and processes.
This article is taken from the 10 part guide to Tougher LMR Systems.
If you would like to download this article and the other articles in the series you can do that on the Tait website.