Can they count on IP?
Technology developments are changing the world of public safety communications from simple analog radio networks to Internet Protocol (IP) packet-switched networks. Digital radio systems with IP networks free up space on congested conventional radio channels, are capable of larger coverage and roaming areas, allow messages to be protected by encryption, and can transfer data as well as voice messages.
While general government users have been adopting the new technology at a rapid pace, some public safety agencies still are concerned that IP-based radio networks may not be suitable for their demanding needs. For some agencies, experience has shown that “new” technology is not always “improved” technology. And, given the track record of some early adopters, some of the reticence is understandable and well-founded.
The initial cost of new technology also might be steep. But, while IP-based systems can be complex and require specialized knowledge to install and implement, maintaining the system can be relatively inexpensive because most of the equipment has much in common with equipment used in local area network (LAN) applications.
Today, some agencies are making the switch to the new technology and beginning to reap the rewards. The first IP-based public safety communications systems are being deployed in statewide networks and for U.S. Department of Defense installations. For example, the U.S. Army — National Capital Region (NCR) began using a new trunked voice and data communications network with a completely IP-based backbone in October 2006. The network encrypts communications for multiple military installations in a region stretching from northern Maryland to southern Virginia. Up to 10,000 users can be on the system at one time, and it can be expanded for additional installations.
The IP network lets a variety of people using different radio equipment communicate seamlessly. In addition, the system uses non-proprietary open architecture and is scalable to accommodate future technologies. The NCR system replaced a number of stand-alone systems operating independently.
New York State recently awarded a 20-year, multi-billion dollar contract for an IP-based network that will be used by all state public safety and public service agencies, and as many as 65,000 state and local government users. Ultimately, the state expects to develop and provide a common communications platform for public safety and public service agencies. The New York Office for Technology determined that a digital radio network that could serve agencies across the state would be more cost effective than attempting to maintain the aging, deteriorating system. The new network will cover 95 percent of the state, including 97 percent of its roadways. With the new technology, users gain a reliable channel of communication that will last well into the future.
The author is business development manager for Lowell, Mass.-based M/A-COM.