October 2010 Inbox
Friday, October 01, 2010 | Comments
Following are comments we’ve received from readers about recent online and print news and articles. If you’d like to comment on an article, e-mail edit@RRMediaGroup.com.
In response to “P25 Expenditures to Reach $731M in 2014” from Oct. 27
This is an interesting article, but I want to take issue with a couple of statements in the article with the first being “P25 compatibility has become a significant purchasing factor for users of state and local public-safety radio communications systems.” Yes, Project 25 (P25) compatibility has become a significant purchasing factor because agencies have been and are being misled and forced to P25 technology when in most cases they don’t need too. I think a lot of agencies have been conned into purchasing P25 compatible equipment and systems because sales reps from various vendors and radio shops throughout the country are telling or have told fire chiefs, police chiefs, sheriffs, EMS directors and others that P25 is mandated by the FCC when it isn’t.
I know of several cases here in Georgia where vendors and sales reps have told agencies they must switch to P25 to comply with the FCC’s narrowband mandate before Jan. 1, 2013, if they operate radios in the VHF or UHF band or to meet rebanding requirements if they operate in 800 MHz analog equipment, when neither is true. Take both of these factors and combine it with the stipulation listed in most federal grants that require any two-way radio communications equipment purchased with grant funding to be P25 compliant and you have a recipe for vendors and radio shops to take things to the extreme to make a sale. I know for a fact this has been occurring in Georgia and I’m sure it has been occurring all across our nation.
These types of tactics have also been occurring on the non-public-safety side of the house too. About six months ago, the transportation director of our school system called me upset that he had to replace all of his department’s two-way radios to go digital when he had just replaced all of the radios three years ago. I asked him who told him this and he said, “A radio vendor did a presentation at a conference I attended in Atlanta yesterday, and the vendor representative told everyone in the room if they were still operating analog radios in either the VHF or UHF band they had until Jan. 1, 2013 to switch to digital.” I told him the vendor rep’s statement was partially true, but he did not have anything to worry about because all of the radios used by the school’s maintenance and transportation divisions were already operating in narrowband at 12.5 kilohertz. After exchanging e-mail messages with him two or three times, I think I finally convinced him his agency’s radios were OK and no further action will be required with his department’s radios until the FCC mandates 6.25 kilohertz.
The second area I want to address is the paragraph where it states, “Several trends are developing in the LMR market, including increasing direct radio-to-radio operation, allowing short-range communications in the absence of network infrastructure.” Public-safety agencies have been using the talk around or direct mode for simplex radio-to-radio communications for more than the 30 years I have been in this profession, but only recently has using this mode become more prevalent by users operating P25 equipment because agencies have recognized using P25 technology in a high-noise environment is a safety issue, such as at a fire scene. Many fire and law-enforcement agencies using P25 trunked systems have adopted procedures and protocols that mandate their personnel switch to an analog simplex (direct/talk around) channel when operating at specific types of incidents because of the “safety risks” and operational issues associated with using P25 or other digital two-way radio technologies.
I think this “trend” by public safety to use the direct radio-to-radio feature is more out of the necessity to circumvent the use of P25 technology to help ensure safe and efficient operations. Many agencies have realized the audio quality in P25 technology hampers their ability to function under certain conditions and is not the best technology for them to use, especially during special operations so they switch to the “tried and true” analog simplex technology to get the job done with the least amount of distortion, distractions and infractions.
Robert “Bob” L. Williams Jr.
Radio Systems Manager
City of Marietta, Ga.

As you may have heard, some people believe the ancient Mayan calendar is predicting the world will end in 2012. Many public-safety agencies are banking on this so they don’t have to worry about being compliant with the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate by Dec. 31, 2013.
Unfortunately, recent scientific studies have determined that the Mayan calendar could be off by decades or even centuries. So, it looks like a lot of public-safety people had better start planning to narrowband their systems!
Jack Hart
Tusa Consulting Services

Actions like this need to be carefully scrutinized long before implementation. If the infrastructure specifications allow proprietary equipment, the purchaser will likely spend a lotmore than just “30 percent.” This happened to the state of Michigan. Only Motorola or Motorola-licensed equipment (EF Johnson) will work, and Motorola controls the entire equipment sales, as well as the service. Recent system “upgrades” to allow more individual radio IDs just cost the state millions of dollars it doesn’t have. It shouldn’t have.
With Project 25 (P25) standards covering a really open format, there’s no reason for someone to be locked into purchasing a $4,000 radio when one that costs less than a quarter of that will work just fine. It should be noted that this also holds true for the Harris OpenSky infrastructure as well. In situations like this, where the taxpayers are picking up the tab, the phrase “no proprietary system designs shall be allowed” should be mandated to be a part of every contract. To do otherwise is like printing a license to steal.
Scott Adams
Adams Electronics
Wixom, Mich.
It seems there is more than one state following that practice. Another little published, nor often mentioned fact, is the number of former personnel of the successful vendor or the customer that wind up in the employ of the other following a major system purchase, and if any are not specifically ex-vendor personnel, then there tends to be a majority of previous users of that vendor's equipment.
And in Mississippi's case, an executive for a major bid contender who was involved in the bidding process on the state's system, appears to have started to work for the successful bidder on the day the bids were submitted. Neat huh? Many conclusions have been drawn on this one around here, but no improper conduct has been claimed or acknowledged.
A little search effort will produce eye-opening results, especially if you have been around the business for a while and can recognize many of the names and whom they worked for.

This isn't exactly news but then again maybe it is. I just lost another sale and probably another long-time customer (the second one this week) to the "online wholesalers" of two-way radio equipment — in this case, a company in Texas that wholesales Motorola two-way radios for below or slightly above dealer cost.

I would like to see an article on this subject that includes reaction from Motorola as to what this is doing to the long-time dealers and the dealer network. Maybe they just don't care as long as they sell boxes, but at some point someone has to service this equipment, and the customer needs to keep some sense of order in regard to frequencies.
In particular I would like to know how they expect me to stay in business when my customer can buy a UHF Mag One for $179 including programming and shipping when it costs me $150 plus shipping and programming time and honoring the one-year warranty? Last week I lost a bid for CP200s to my customer where the online bidder bid less then what the radio cost me. I thought about buying from these people myself but that is prohibited in Motorola's dealer agreement.
Bill Luongo
Westchester Communications Service

Though I have nothing but respect for Thales for its efforts in development of the Liberty and anxiously await the introduction of a mobile version, I remain concerned that no effort has been made at the federal level to require manufacturers vending proprietary protocol systems to reasonably license these protocols to other technology manufacturers such as Thales. Though they might not have the ability to simply mandate such licensing, I suspect that excluding a manufacturer unwilling to reasonably license its proprietary protocols from being considered in any award funded in any part with federal funds would have the desired result. The government’s failure to undertake such an initiative flies in the face of its stated objective to achieve public-safety interoperability. Thus grants that technically perpetuate the inoperability created by these proprietary protocols should be viewed as a violation of the public trust and the misuse of public funds.
Recent reports that Harris, producer of a competitive multiband public-safety radio, will not include the proprietary protocols it now owns as a result of its M/A-COM acquisition has me wondering if this is in concern that doing so would expose Harris to a legal challenge that could force its licensing to others. I can’t claim to have any inside information on this; however, not including protocols used by public-safety agencies you control in a product designed as an interoperability solution for public safety would seem a significant contradiction to DHS intent and contrary to the public interest.
Bob Fay
The RF Technologies Group

There is a simple, effective and low-cost solution to the illegal use of cell phones in our correctional facilities. Stop installing bidirectional amplifiers and antenna systems in these facilities that support cell-phone use. You can’t make the call if you do not have a signal.
Paul J. Toth

In response to “VHF Radios Key to Interoperability in Boulder Fire” from Sept. 14
It has been perplexing me for a long time, but why is everything going digital? I work at the county 9-1-1 center, have been working with radios for the past 20 years, and have no problem whatsoever with any of my radios. I also have my own VHF simplex system that does well.
My county is going to the North Carolina VIPER system, which I think is a huge mistake. Our EMS has already gone to it, and sometimes they hear their calls, sometimes they don't. All too often they have to call back to us and ask to repeat, or we have to ask them to repeat. What good is that doing anyone, especially the tax-paying citizens of my county who expect top-notch emergency service when they call for it? This was not a problem when our EMS was on good, usable, analog VHF. My county fire, rescue and law enforcement is also going to 800 MHz digital trunking.
I have an idea: why don't we step up one more notch and go to CB radio? At least we could hear our units and understand what they are saying. In conclusion, I still have six old Motorola Motracs on VHF from the 1960s that work and work a whole lot better than any radio out today — every one of them. Is it just a ploy for the FCC, along with the radio manufacturers, to make everyone that is in any kind of radio field buy new equipment?
Jesse Kale

Click here for the September 2010 Inbox.
Click here for the August 2010 Inbox.
Click here for the July 2010 Inbox.

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