September 02, 2008
Narrowbanding and Digital
I have a few comments on the article “Are you Ready for 2013?” which I enjoyed. I’ve been in this business as a professional and hobbyist for 50 years and found the article to be quite accurate, including the number of problems and unexpected results.
Unfortunately, public-safety users have the burden of trying to make digital systems do what analog has done well in many ways. It is obvious that digital is strongly supported by certain people, vendors and the FCC — and not all for reasons other than creating a better product. Additionally, users generally aren’t radio savvy, and that is overlooked when systems are designed. So often we hear that communications were the weakest link at an event or training scene because the users didn’t understand or missed instructions for the radio operations.
As often as we hear the word interoperability, you would expect it to be used if available. We have a Motorola Gold Elite in place here with more than 30 channels and eight tower sites. We dispatch about 95 percent of all 9-1-1 calls for EMS, fire and police countywide, and not once in 10 years has anyone asked us to provide an interoperable channel arrangement for any type of event, let alone training.
One important issue with digital radio has to do with multiple units talking at once, which happens often. In an analog system, the likelihood exists for someone on the receiving end to hear something when two or more talk at the same time — noise, whines or parts of a conversation. In a digital system, the likelihood of nothing being heard by anyone is prevalent, so there is no request to ask for a repeat or even an acknowledgement that someone is transmitting, let alone two people trying.
Training is often ruled the problem, but after hearing this for years, it hasn’t improved much in the heat of an event. The users want and need to have a simple radio that doesn’t need attention, has good audio capabilities — which digital has been highly publicized recently that it doesn’t — has quick CTCSS response and power-up characteristics, and less buttons and knobs to adjust while under the stresses of an actual event. Dependability on any RF infrastructure other than the radios themselves at an event is inviting problems. An incident command operations setup and conventional radios on proper simplex channel operations at most events are the better choice. Given that, a large-scale event would warrant a different approach.
Sadly, users will just have to do the best they can with the tools that are provided, even though they are lesser than what they now have. As time passes and digital technology improvements continue, they will, no doubt, resolve or overcome some of these issues. But for now I can relate my thoughts to a credible line in the movie “The Towering Inferno,” where the fire chief (Steve McQueen) is telling the architect (Paul Newman) that this could have been avoided if only fire department knowledge was included in the design.
Russell V. Whittaker Jr.
Communications Systems Specialist
Dutchess County (N.Y.) Emergency Response
Open Standards and Competition
Regarding the June news “TETRA Suppliers Announce U.S. Intentions,” I’ve always been a supporter of open standards, or at least open competition. Unfortunately, Motorola doesn’t appear to share my belief and becomes a partner in many technologies only as a tool to prevent competitive technology from impacting its own, highly protected proprietary technology. Often this tactic revolves around trunking protocols, and because we have public-safety system planners here in the United States who don’t seem to be concerned about how our tax dollars are spent, we now find ourselves funding radios systems that aren’t only available from one or two sources. But because of such a lack of open competition, these agencies are paying three to four times more for the equipment then they should.
TETRA, and it’s earlier cousin MPT 1327, would have saved taxpayers billions of dollars, but Motorola has withheld these technologies because of the way this country treats intellectual property rights (IPRs). I would love to see individuals who have created this condition held responsible for their malfeasance and misfeasance. Any use of public funds like this should always have the statement, “There shall not be use of any proprietary or nonopen standards in any aspect of this proposal.”
Unfortunately, no such restrictions seem to be imposed on these public officials, and because nearly unrestricted funding has been and still is available, there is already so much proprietary infrastructure in place in public safety that protocols such as TETRA and MPT 1327 will not have much of a market here. Utilities and transportation may hold some hope for marketing these more “open” standards, but virtually all suppliers will continue to be locked out of the public-safety market.
I haven’t seen a statement by Motorola that addresses the reason it has used its market might and IPRs to keep out TETRA and MPT 1327. Is everyone afraid to ask? Now that the IPRs have expired on MPT 1327, we are seeing some implementation of such protocols. Unfortunately the land-mobile market has changed greatly, and the volume likely won’t be anywhere near what it could have been a few decades ago. MPT 1327 subscriber equipment is more than five times less expensive than the proprietary equipment that the public-safety spendthrifts are paying. How many hungry people could we have fed with that extra dough?
TETRA in Iraq
I enjoyed the May article “TETRA Takes Another Try at U.S. Market.” I was the senior military officer in Iraq from 2004 – 2006 and was responsible for the country’s buildout of the Advanced First Responder Network (AFRN) project. This was a TETRA Motorola-built project.
I am an avid supporter of TETRA and hope North America can enjoy its advantages someday. We also partnered with the railroads to use their fiber backbone to develop a redundant system.
Thank you. It was a very good article.
Col. Samuel T. Williams (retired)
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