By Sandra Wendelken, Editor
While 2008 was the year of multiband radio announcements, 2009 is likely to be the year of multiband product releases and deployments. Thales Communications, Harris and Motorola, three companies that announced multiband radios last year, are scheduled to begin deliveries later this year.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) accepted delivery of 10 prototype multiband radio transceivers from Thales Communications in January, and laboratory testing and evaluation is under way. In addition to the lab tests, OIC is conducting limited demonstrations with emergency responders across all disciplines at several locations. OIC expects to release a report of the test results in late 2009 or early 2010.
Pilot tests with several agencies around the country, initially scheduled for last year, have been delayed until sometime in 2009 at the earliest. “OIC is in the process of identifying potential pilot locations that offer the best mix of users from the local, state, tribal and federal agencies,” said Tom Chirhart, OIC multiband radio program manager.
Thales, which was awarded a $6.3 million contract with DHS last year to pilot test a multiband radio, has been collecting public-safety user input on the radio for several months, said Steve Nichols, Thales director of business development, DHS/public safety. To complement the DHS tests under way, the company will conduct a demonstration program this spring for public-safety officials who want to try one of the Liberty radios. The radio covers the VHF low and high bands, UHF, and 700 and 800 MHz.
Nichols said that field trials with multiple large public-safety agencies, such as the New York and Los Angeles police departments, are under way. There is also interest from smaller agencies where officials carry two or three radios. He said the two main categories of interest come from incident managers and users who roam on several currently incompatible networks. Deliveries of the radio are planned for later this year.
Harris also plans to ship its Unity XG-100 multiband radio this year. This week Harris announced an agreement with Monroe County, N.Y., to collaborate on the testing and development of new public-safety communications technologies, including the Unity XG-100. The agreement calls for Monroe County’s Public Safety Department, which procures radios for every public-safety agency in Monroe County, to provide feedback and evaluation of the radio, as well as other Harris-developed public-safety communications products.
“We are now on our third generation of multiband tactical radios, with hundreds of thousands deployed all over the world,” said George Helm, vice president and general manager, government and public-safety business unit of Harris RF Communications. “Harris is committed to applying this expertise to solve the increasingly complex communication problems of government and public-safety personnel. We’re looking forward to collaborating with Monroe County personnel to gain further insights into the issues facing first responders and other government communicators.”
“From an architectural standpoint, we are starting to break new ground,” said Kevin Kane, director of sales and business development for Harris RF Communications. “We are incorporating embedded GPS for situational awareness and embedded Bluetooth. We are trying to incorporate a lot of ground-breaking features.”
Harris’ initial multiband radio, the RF-1033M, was targeted at federal users, but the Unity line is focused on state and local officials as well and covers 136 – 870 MHz. “This market has been underserved to some level,” Kane said. “There are some features this market really desires, and there hasn’t been a lot of evolution.”
Motorola’s APX 7000 P25 radio offers multiband use at VHF, 700 and 800 MHz. The company plans to start deliveries in June after four agencies complete beta testing, said Bob Schassler, Motorola corporate vice president of the government and public-safety products organization. Motorola is seeing interest from large agencies and state and federal users. “It will be those users who really have a clear ongoing need for interoperability for multiband requirements,” he said. “It’s a product for users with really complex operations that require all the features and functionality.”
The APX also has enhanced noise-suppression technology. Although the radio wasn’t developed specifically to address the noise problems some firefighters are experiencing with digital radios, there is interest from fire agencies because of the radio’s noise-suppression features, Schassler said. “The noise situations for fire are never going to completely go away, but we’ll continue to invest in research and development (R&D) and in ways to minimize the problem. Some of the noise suppression technology clearly will help.”
All three companies will be demonstrating their radios and other products at the IWCE conference this week in Las Vegas.