What Local Municipalities Need to Know about LTE & P25
In a discussion I was having with one of my co-workers, I was asked about P25 (public safety's latest standard), LTE (long term evolution) and what it means to local public safety radio users. It made me think about our current radio system configurations, the abilities they have now and what is needed to get them to a higher level. Current systems used by our local governments operate analog two way radios, in essence, I talk and you listen. Similar to cellular phones in 1983, when a call was placed it was on one specific frequency. Effective, yet in our world today with ever increasing demands on information, it lends itself to being archaic. In addition with the limited frequency resources from the FCC we find adding any type of capacity to these legacy systems in a similar analog fashion is restricted by co-channel users on that frequency. Thus we are educating users on digital and what it will do for them.
What we find is the roadblock of the all mighty dollar. As you start mentioning prices for digital mobile radio systems (DMR), the glazed eyes and wandering thoughts appear and you start to lose your intended audience. So I started thinking about what I have been taught: show the value and look for funding mechanisms. Radio systems today are analog, digital and P25. Customers who are used to purchasing a radio anywhere from $400 to $1200 dollars are being asked to purchase a radio that is three times that price. Sticker shock kills the concept. But that is just it. It is a concept and a roadmap we are suggesting to build into the big picture.
What some towns have not realized is that this is truly a top down type configuration. The Government (FCC) likes digital because it creates a spectrally efficient means of radio. Single channels now can contain multiple conversations by utilizing a digital platform. Digital lends itself to passing data as well as voice where analog mainly communicates voice. Digital means connecting your department to another department or County for multi-jurisdictional assistance (working towards interoperability). Digital P25 created multiple voice-paths for one radio channel. More information per frequency makes sense to the FCC as frequencies are a limited resource.
P25 voice will be enhanced with LTE data systems strictly for Public Safety. Plans are in the works to build out over the next decade a data system (4G, 5G,??), that can transport large amounts of data. This will be used for Mobile Data, Video and potentially voice in the long term.
If you are one of those local municipalities we ask you to consider a few things. Evaluate your system. Evaluate your costs to maintain, purchase new and update regularly. Is it really out of the question to look at Digital? When larger centers and all Counties migrate to these platforms, where will you be? Still looking for a way to connect your system to the adjoining town?
An old saying, the “Future is Now”, still holds true. Leave your mind open and explore your options because education is the key. By the time you've done your research to understand these technologies it will probably be two years from now, and by the time you plan it out and act it will be five to seven years from now and by then we are at the next technology and you are behind the curve. There are opportunities here you can’t afford to miss. Educate yourself as fast as you can and help your department move forward. Funding, leasing, and sharing in these technologies are all crucial parts to achieving advancement in todays' communications systems.
This article was written by Tom Treichler, Director of Sales & Service at Chicago Communications. Tom has over 30 years of experience in the industry with a background in engineering, system integration, and wireless broadband. If you have any questions for Tom, or another representative at ChiComm, please contact us.