September 2011 Inbox
Thursday, September 01, 2011 | 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, email
How utterly stupid and a gigantic waste of taxpayer’s money in addition to a senseless modification/waiver of the FCC rules when it just isn’t necessary.  Shelby County, Ala., obviously hasn’t even looked at all those new 6.25-kilohertz channels that the FCC has already released. There is plenty of good, inexpensive equipment out there to accomplish the task — Icom and Kenwood to name just two. Would somebody please take the blinders off those Shelby County administrators or remove them entirely?
I vote “no” if the FCC is asking for comments.
Scott Adams
Adams Electronics
Wixom, Mich.

Let's take a look at a current request for proposals (RFP) that is on the street for a countywide Project 25 (P25) radio project, due back October 2011.
Here is the link to the Georgia county’s RFP:
There is a "creative" scoring method as part of the RFP. Under this particular style of competitive bidding, it appears one manufacturer will get a 40 percent scoring advantage when it submits its proposals for grading. The best that the second-place vendor could score would be a dismal 60 percent.??There are other troublesome sections of the document as well.
If there are federal grant dollars involved, this all may fly in the face of Safecom’s 2011 grant guidance document. And you wonder why Congress is looking into competition in the public-safety communications markets. Errant local governments and enabling vendors seem to play these games all the time with immunity.
Is this example common in P25 bidding, or is this a one-off rarity? ??
Steve Rauter
Executive Director
Western Will County Communications Center (WESCOM)
Plainfield, Ill.

I think that’s a code word to LightSquared to give more campaign donations.
Don Balsamo  

It just continues to prove that a politician will always screw up matters. If reallocation of the D block to public safety is a good thing (and I believe that it is), then propose that in its own bill, and let it stand or fall on its own merit.
But in the hopes it will help to pass his misguided jobs bill, the president turns a potentially valuable tool for public safety into a political lever. While I support the D block for public safety, it should happen with no political tricks. Submitted in this way, I can only advise my senators and representative to ignore the D block issue, and to vote against this deplorable bill.
Doug Haygood
Indiana Department of Correction
It sounds like another way for them to steal money from the public to me. I doubt there will be many, if any, jobs that come out of this other than for a bunch of Beltway bandits.
Jim Tuggle

Arizona, similar to many other states has had its 9-1-1 funds swept by the state to help try and balance its budget, and that has left big holes in the immediate future of 9-1-1 growth and upgrades to the system.
Vicky Scott
Peoria (Ariz.) Police
Communications Manager

The digital migration isn’t being steered as much by the end user or agency as it is by the companies that are trying to sell the radio equipment. The common practice to make the existing radio equipment “no longer supported” is the common move by the supplying company. In some cases this may be justified, but in many others, it is to shorten the life span of the equipment being used out in the field.
The end user on this radio network doesn't care if it is analog or digital, as long as the transmission can be made when it's needed. The general acceptance of the digital signal just going dead when you’re out of string on the radio coverage is not being well accepted. At least with the analog system, the end user could tell when the coverage area was getting poor. This is not the case with a digital radio. It is also why the fire service has been so reluctant to use a digital radio network. The fire service has had many cases where the end user could not call for help on a digital system.
The cost of digital radios is about double to triple the cost of an analog radio. If you add trunking and encryption to the digital radio, you’re looking at about $3,500 per portable radio. Step into the new series of dual-band radios and you now have more than a $5,000 radio for each portable. Add to this the cost of a mobile, and the system blossoms out of the financial abilities of the average public-safety agency around the country. Unless you’re real good at writing federal grant requests, your agency will never be able to swallow the cost of these digital radios. In about three to five years, let's see just how many agencies have migrated to a digital radio system.
You have fire departments that hold bake sales, just to be able to afford the cost of the fuel to put in their fire trucks. This isn't taking into account the cost of any tools or equipment that may get damaged or lost at a fire. Their bunker coats they wear inside a fire probably need to be replaced. They can't afford to buy new fire coats. How do you expect these agencies to purchase a new radio? With the FCC mandating a switch to narrowband operation on their radios by Jan. 1, 2013, these departments are trying to figure out how to replace their old radios that probably were hand me downs back in the early 1970s.
Now if you’re in a big city, the whole issue is different. The fire or police chief just goes to the city management, lays out what is needed and in the next financial year, they may get what they asked for. Planning, engineering and the likes they leave up to the vendors. Who is watching the vendors to make sure you’re getting what you think you ordered? In many cases, the vendors are allowed to write the bid specs for the equipment. Is this the right way to migrate a radio system from an analog to a digital system? In the vendor's eyes, it's great. They lay something on the table, snow the people there with fast foot steps and shove a contract in their hands before some outside consultant can go over it and advise the agency if they are getting what they asked for.
I have been in the public safety field for more than 45 years now. I have worked for a number of cellular companies designing and installing their site equipment. I have worked for a couple of engineering/consulting firms that catered to the public-safety agencies. I have seen the actions of the big radio vendors over the years, and most of their actions haven't changed since the early 1960s. The toys have just got more expensive.
Jim Szalajeski
Radio Systems Engineer
Alexandria, Va.

It’s always interesting to see these guys try to re-invent the wheel. What they don't talk about is who is going to foot the bill for their “saves” and “modifications” and all that other crap. Why don't they just admit they screwed the pooch and take bankruptcy and be done with it?
Jim Tuggle
The company will develop a filtering solution for precision GPS receivers and a module modification for legacy precision GPS receivers. Who is to pay for this modification? Will my Trimble quit working without the “modification?”
David Britton
9-1-1 for Van Buren County, Ark.

What you’re seeing is probably a smart move by the county to go with a VHF trunking system. Many agencies have been on the VHF band over the years and have found it provides good coverage, even into buildings. The antennas used on the VHF portable radios at least provide good range. I have seen two people standing in the same hallway of a school trying to get to their dispatcher. The VHF worked fine, and the trunking radio couldn't even get a signal.
It wouldn't surprise me to see many agencies moving toward staying on their VHF band, but change their operation over to a trunking system. It means that they will need a number of channels to make a trunking system work. Shelby County found no free channels in the public-safety segment and asked for the use of another service class frequency. I can only guess that these frequencies were not in use in its region.
If you also look at the state of Virginia, you will find they started to install a VHF statewide trunking system a number of years ago. They just finished cutting over to the entire state here several months ago. Does it cover the entire state? No, but it is better than what they had before the trunking system. They did have to get waivers for a number of frequencies they used. Depending on where you are, there are some frequencies that lay fallow, just because they are in another service group. You need to do your homework to find channels that are unused in your region to make a trunked system work.
It takes considerable time and effort to locate unused radio channels. Then it takes some cool-headed people to go to the frequency coordinators and work out some sort of a deal. I have spent lots of time on the phone after weeks of monitoring each radio channel that could possibly be a candidate to be used. Then you need to plot out the coverage and see if you fall within the restrictions of part 90 that you need to follow. The process takes lots of time and energy to even be able to approach the FCC with a waiver request.
Go for it Shelby County. Be proud of what you will end up with for a radio system. The efforts will be well worth it in the end.

This is not an FCC issue; this is a cell phone carrier issue. The FCC does not have regulatory authority to stop a “paying customer” (however awful they are) from receiving their (malicious intent) service that is paid for (even if with stolen money). Only the cell-phone carrier can “accept money and not deliver paid-for service for it,” and that too would be contestable. I bet some idiot inmate could then sue them for breach of contract. That would result in the carrier compensating some bottom-feeder lowlife for damages and that would truly be insult on top of injury along with not solving the problem.
Don’t forget, an unsubscribed phone can still make all of the 9-1-1 and 6-1-1 calls it wants to. There are no charges associated with this, and the 9-1-1 dispatchers hate them. 9-1-1 is never denied, and inmates love to harass the people they see as the ones that put them in jail.
Further, if the FCC (or any other regulatory body) issued a positive rulemaking then it would be construed as a de facto endorsement specifically of the sole-sourced CellAntenna Guardian Service, forcing prisons to purchase it in lieu of other products or services that are equal or better than it. And there are plenty of products that outperform this pipedream.
Did you notice that the user/buyer is responsible for managing this device? That becomes a stress point for under-funded prisons that don’t have extra manpower sitting around doing nothing waiting to manually fill in a blacklist email to some higher authority so they can perhaps stop an inmate from talking who happily goes on doing so unimpeded until the denial of service eventually happens.
As previously reported by us to your editorial pages; it does not remove the phone from the facility. That is inherently self defeating, as are the other so-called “managed access” products, that only grant/deny service to white/blacklisted phones but never get rid of them. There are several facilities that bought one of these overpriced gadgets and are now contacting the government to provide them with a working solution after wasting a million dollars and getting nothing for it in return.
Jamming falls into the same category of useless money wasters; even if they were ever made legal they do not solve the problem, they only mask it.
Another issue is that if the Guardian Service inadvertently unsubscribes the warden’s or a guard’s phone or some other unsuspecting visitor or contractor’s device, do you want to be the one that calls the carrier to try and prove your innocence? Not me. I liken this to identity theft where the loser is always the one whose identity is stolen. It costs you money to fix a problem created by someone else.
Finally, what if the accidentally unsubscribed phone needs to make an emergency call to a doctor, hospital, home or office, and they are denied service because of this product. Who gets the bill and the subsequent lawsuit — probably the federal/state/local jail that made the mistake of buying it. Will CellAntenna provide liability and indemnity insurance for that?
We engineer, design and sell the only type that works — a detection, location and capture system that costs far less and actually eliminates the phones from the prisoners only, not the warden, guests, visitors, guards, contractors or anyone else. Liability for use of these systems is zero.
Robert L. (Bob) Burchett
Certified Communications Engineer
Enterprise Electronics
Torrance, Calif.

I agree with the concept of increasing the stations count on an FCC license to greater than six. Presently, you can only have six fixed locations on a license application. On top of that you can add mobile, 6.1-meter control and temporary fixed stations. This seems to be a legacy from the old paper form 574 days when there was a limit of six. Because the universal licensing system (ULS) is all computer based, the restriction is placed by the programmers and no longer the size of the paper. This will allow large networks to have a single call sign.
Of course, there is a downside to this. If you let the license expire, you lose your whole system.
Leonard J. Koehnen
Consulting Engineer
Saint Paul, Minn.
There are a couple of telecom leaders that offer advanced proprietary features. The requirement to “keep abreast” of technology often invites proprietary systems to capture markets as a result of technological research within the few leading radio manufacturers.
For regulatory agencies to decide on what features should be permitted (i.e. in this article's case, proprietary digital ID versus analog Morse code station ID) could lead to a requirement that departs from the whole intent of ID, being decipherable by all radio users for purposes including identifying rogue radio operators, or rogue or defective equipment.
I agree if the digital ID software is open system, being available free to all manufacturers; however, if proprietary digital ID requires less developed manufacturers to pay for intellectual property needed to decipher what the digital ID means, then the industry is allowing the few manufacturers to again capture the marketplace for their intellectual property and further making interoperability more difficult through higher implementation costs (i.e. for public-safety mobile users).
Norm Cook, P.E.

In response to “A History of Public-Safety Interoperability” from Sept. 7
You need to take a broader view of what has gone on and what is going on around the country to get a clear picture of where radio interoperability is today. There are a number of states that have stepped up to the plate and formulated a plan that is working. With the help of federal and state grant money, many of these programs are on their way to providing a good system.
Take for example the work that Virginia has done. They started putting together a program four or five years ago and have been adding to the system each year. They have some 130 plus 9-1-1 dispatch centers and mobile command vehicles on line each and every day. These centers and mobile command vehicles each have a gateway installed 24/7 that are connected to their radio channels. At any moment, any of those gateways can be interconnected and provide seamless interface between multiple radio channels or trunking talk groups around the state. The state police have their dispatch centers on the network and can patch their STARS selected talk groups to whatever local public-safety agency may need direct radio contact with the troops out in the field.
The Virginia COMLINC project is a living and growing network that other states around the country should look at for ideas on how to solve their interoperability issues. If you do a simple search on the Internet, you will find a number of articles and links to information on what was done.
Now for the largest road block to any interagency radio interoperability — politics. In my travels around the country working on the radio interoperability products, I see that the department managers have this stand off attitude. If you want to talk to my agency, you will do it on my channels when and how I say you can. This is a common position taken by many agency managers. How you break the attitude will probably take that manager leaving the position. Another way is for the federal government to tie the radio interoperability funding to the open use of the radio gateways. Those departments that dig their heels in and refuse to work with other agencies shouldn't be given the federal grant money. This may seem a hard stand to take, but if the federal government is going to provide funding, they should have a say on how it is used and applied.
In other cases, I have found great cooperation between the different agencies. Fire talks with police, public works talk to fire and so on. In these locations, the use of the interoperability gateways is used frequently. In also looking at the interface between the city and the suburbs, we still have some push back. Again it's the politics at the top and not the people with the feet on the street causing the problems.
There are agencies that have a fabulous mobile command vehicle loaded to the brim with all sorts of communications and video equipment that was funded by the federal government. When an incident occurs, you would think that this vehicle would be rolled out. Nope, they don't have the staff to operate it and it just sits. Maybe it gets used for some special event or county fair, but for the most part it just sits. Many of them don't even have a shore power connection to keep the bare minimum of equipment up and ready to operate. So when they do roll it out, the batteries are dead, the computers won't power up and the radio aren’t programmed for all the new frequencies that have been changed in the last year or so.
Then we have this great push toward the 700 MHz band. That is somewhat of a great idea, but maybe there should be some planning on how it will be implemented. I have seen some comments that there is a move to push everything from the VHF and UHF band operation to the new 700 MHz D block. Maybe those that are pushing for this should take a few moments and have a good talk with someone in the radio engineering field. The major consideration is just how do you expect to pay for this major migration to the new band? Second, have you considered the results of trying to jam all these agencies and the multiple radio channels that will be required into this new frequency band? It may be fine out in the rural areas where the number of agencies and their size will allow for it. But in the major cities and the suburbs I would expect to see too much jammed into this segment of frequencies. The major radio companies are pushing hard, because they see a gold mine in the need for huge quantities of new radios.
Bottom line here is cost, politics and ability to migrate the users to wanting to use interoperability radio communication between the different agencies.
Jim Szalajeski
Radio Systems Engineer
Alexandria, Va.

It’s about time that someone stood up and stopped the nonsense of these sole source procurements. There is more than one company out there, and the government should spread the wealth and promote interoperability.
Jim Foley
Tactical Public Safety

Click here for the August 2011 Inbox.
Click here for the July 2011 Inbox.
Click here for the June 2011 Inbox.

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