July 2013 Inbox
Tuesday, July 09, 2013 | 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 edit@RRMediaGroup.com.


In response to “Motorola Responds to FirstNet Allegations” from July 31


This is a well-written article. Thanks.

It is exciting to see all of the energy going into the First Responder Network authority (FirstNet) effort. One question that has not been asked at a strategic level is a pretty simple one: "Can a solution be found, or can we require that the network provides all of the benefits of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, while at the same time provide compatibility and support for current/existing Project 25 (P25) communications infrastructure (fixed and subscriber)?"

The existing capabilities within current conventional and P25 systems are valuable and not something that should be attempted to be replaced or close-copied in a next-evolution LTE phase for public-safety broadband. The systems used by the Phoenix Fire Department in which we could not justify a P25-only system and in turn narrowbanded and enhanced our existing VHF conventional system while, at the same time, leveraged the advantages and capabilities of the latest/greatest subscriber devices from Motorola and employed P25 for enhanced communications under specific conditions. The P25 system has its support role that it does very well, while the conventional systems continue to provide the exact type of services that are necessary for certain levels of response. Future LTE systems can and should only enhance and not attempt to replace, as was (and in some cases still is) the mindset before during the P25 rush.

One of the biggest problems that I continue to see with my peers, who are technically involved with public-safety communications, is that they frequently feel that they can have a strong hand in the design of systems. If a much more strategic and inclusive vision was produced out of FirstNet like this, I feel very strongly that the intellectually talented vendor and public-safety community could once again respond with a solution. I do have to give a lot of credit to my peers up to this point, as a large majority a few years ago felt that a broadband network like this was nothing but a pipe dream and that we would never see progress up to this point.

Mark Schroeder
Communications and Infrastructure Manager
Water Services Department
Phoenix, Ariz.



I think the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is a great concept, however, applying the principles of cellular engineering to first responder/public-safety systems leaves a lot to be desired. Having been witness to the National Telecommunications and Industry Administration (NTIA) presentation on LTE and the associated technologies, of which this appears to be an offshoot, I don't think public safety should be in the business of adapting consumer-grade technology to critical response environments. As with all things like this there will be places it doesn't work and considering the overall financial health of the nation and various jurisdictions in which it might be deployed, it probably won't be affordable.

Taking grants to purchase a technology one can't afford to maintain is a recipe for disaster. One only needs to ask the smaller police and fire departments in Colorado that went to the state Digital Trunked Radio (DTR) system with radios on grants that now can't afford to repair their Motorola Solutions DTR radios. The direction public safety seems to be taking with this FirstNet maneuver is just more wasted taxpayer money.

N Alexander



In response to “EWA Asks for Public-Safety Standards for I/B Channel Access” from July 29


I have had a license on a VHF industrial/business (I/B) channel for years. I found that county school bus fleets were assigned to this channel, which makes the channel useless during the hours that the buses are on the road. I have other customers that also have found fleets of county and city school buses being assigned to VHF I/B channels and causing significant interference. These school bus fleets are exempt from FCC license fees because they are government entities. Why should business users that pay high fees for licenses be subject to having the channels loaded with fleets of buses?

The local school district within my radius of operation has over 80 buses in operation during the school year. My customer on another channel has over 100 buses on the channel. One of my customer’s repeater output frequency is the input frequency for a school bus repeater. Since the buses do not have the ability to receive that frequency, they cause significant interference to my customer when transmitting on their repeater frequency. This is another case of the radio shop vendor not doing proper research and the coordinators not doing their jobs.

I think it would be appropriate for government agencies to stick to their government spectrum and leave the I/B fee-paying users alone. Why not open up the 174 – 220 VHF spectrum to public safety since many TV broadcasters have left this part of the spectrum for the UHF frequencies for the digital transition. In my area this part of the spectrum is vacant.

Gerald Marsh



In response to “FirstNet’s Security and Privacy Considerations” from July 24


They didn't address proprietary encryption protocols. They should have.

Project 25 (P25) is not interoperable if individual manufacturers are allowed to provide proprietary encryption or any other proprietary feature. This was supposed to be an open standard.

Phil Bartmann



In response to “The Effects of Non-P25 Digital Systems on Interoperability” from July 17


Great article. One of the main reasons these new non-Project 25 (P25) digital systems are so popular is not just the lower cost of the subscriber radios, but the infrastructure that makes them work. A networked, wide-area non-P25 system to cover an average county of 500,000 people can be as low as $2 million. This is for the complete system, subscriber radios, infrastructure, backhaul and interface equipment to dispatch consoles. These systems also are much more cost effective to operate over time.

The same P25 version will run into the $8 million to $12 million range. Not to mention a higher yearly cost of operating and maintaining it. So you do the math, with budgets shrinking as tax revenues have, these jurisdictions have had to do SOMETHING quickly, especially in light of this year’s narrowbanding mandate for VHF/UHF licensees. Those expensive to procure and costly to operate P25 systems are simply NOT an option for many.

It’s great to have interoperability on a network level, but you have to buy what you can afford. What SHOULD happen is to require that all X-TAC (V-TAC/U-TAC/7-TAC/8-TAC) repeater channels in an area be hard patched. In other words, if there is a V-TAC repeater in an area, there also should be a corresponding U-TAC and 7 or 8-TAC repeater to allow ANY subscriber radio to interoperate with anyone, regardless of RF band or what native network that subscriber radio is on. This is workable, affordable solution that could be accomplished quickly, until the pipe dream of some money fairy dropping hundreds of billions of dollars our way to pay the cost of installing P25 networks everywhere.

Erik Bagby
Wellstar Kennestone Hospital
Communicative Services Safety Coordinator/COML



Our county could not come up with funding for Project 25 (P25) radios. We were able to move to digital for $500 less for each radio. We are not a large county but do have more than 500 radios — that comes to $250,000 and the radios we have cost less than that.

Your idea of the manufacturers making the P25 price comparable to the non-P25 radios would be a great idea. I have never understood why P25 was so much more ... I don’t believe there are any licenses to pay for....

David Britton
Van Buren County, Ark.



This article only scratches the surface of a growing problem. In our area we have a robust, mixed P16/Project 25 (P25) system that covers a large portion of the state. Two local vendors have been selling this proprietary technology to public works departments, universities, and in one particularly egregious case, to a large hospital coalition. The system the hospital coalition uses is not a compatible frequency band, so interoperability channels will not correct the problem.

While a large portion of the blame should be placed on the vendors of these systems, who should know better, some blame has to be placed on the entities themselves for not seeking out better information before making purchasing decisions, and for letting the dollar alone have so much influence in those decisions.

Simply adding nationwide or statewide interoperability channels into the proprietary radios may solve the problem on a small scale, but when the large-scale disaster or other event hits, those channels are not going to be enough.



Let’s just burn all of our tax money. Interoperability should be on ANALOG CHANNELS ONLY, and this self-induced hysteria is avoided. No brains required.

Mike DiPalma via Facebook



Mr. Johnson has pointed out that the Project 25 (P25) standard started 20 years ago. He also pointed out that the P25 standard was to set a digital standard that all manufacturers would build to. What he neglected to mention was that the P25 standard has never been completed to accomplish this goal.

The P25 standards group has been very slow to adopt the P25 standards all the way. There are major loopholes that allow some of the vendors to keep their own proprietary “I got yous” in their radios. This has allowed noncompatibilities to fester for these long 20 years. At the rate the standards are moving, public safety will never have a totally usable digital system. There will always be these little proprietary features that stop other vendors from full functionality and compatibility on the digital systems.

This has also been used to the vendors’ advantage due to the high cost of a P25 featured radio. It created a new market for other digital modes at a much lower cost. With the budget constraints that every public-safety agency has today, these new digital modes have flourished. The lower cost radios have made going to the newer digital modes affordable to these agencies that have had their back against the wall with their budgets.

The problem is these new digital modes have created islands all by themselves. They are not compatible with the P25 standard. They create the issues of your neighbor agency next door no longer being able to talk with your agency. Your agency can’t talk to the P25 agency. Sure sounds like a new interoperability problem to me.

Who do we have to blame for this new interoperability interagency problem? I think you can point the finger in several directions. First I have to blame the P25 standards group. They have been very slow on adopting changes to curtail the proprietary P25 features that selected vendors are using to lock out their competition. Second I have to blame the vendors that have come along with the new digital modes that are noncompatible with the P25 standard. Lastly, the greed of the vendors on the very high cost of the P25 radios.

Is there a solution to all these causes and failures to a true P25 standard? At this point I don’t know. What I can assure you is that in the foreseeable future, the funds available to the public-safety agencies for radio projects will be limited. With Congress not able to do their job, it looks like the ability to obtain grant funding will be greatly curtailed.

Unless the radio vendors choose to make a major change in the road they are headed down, the entire country’s radio system will be in danger of a major collapse. Older radios will not be replaced before they can no longer be supported by the radio vendors. Agencies will run their radios right into the ground and right out to the end of life on support by the vendors. Replacement will only be done on a last-resort basis. At least the narrowbanding caused many of the older VHF and UHF radios to be replaced recently.

How will this affect or cause issues with the push for Long Term Evolution (LTE)? Time

will tell. But I think you’re starting to see the writing on the wall already. A few agencies will push to install LTE systems. But for the rest of the country, unless funding becomes available, LTE is just a dream. Congress doesn’t have any interest in providing the required funding to make this happen around the country. I am not sure federal funding will ever be available to make this LTE happen across the whole country.

Note: These are my personal comments and have no reflection on or from the company I work for.

Jim Szalajeski
Radio Systems Engineer
Alexandria, Va.



Old timers will recall a term known as “bouquets and brickbats.” A bouquet is awarded to those who do good, a brickbat to those who don’t do so good. Mr. Johnson’s article calls to mind the need to make such an award.

Mr. Johnson’s views reflect the frustrations of many of us in the industry. In the politest of terms, Mr. Johnson hits the nail on the head. The reason interoperability has failed is lack of oversight and administration by the responsible federal and state agencies, greed and self interest by manufacturers and the distribution channel, and lack of knowledge by purchasers.

Those who have tried to correct the mistakes in the marketplace have been stonewalled, ridiculed and persecuted. The people who have worked so hard in establishing P25 interoperability with open standards have received no support from government, the communications industry or even those who would benefit by open competition.

Thank you Mr. Johnson for telling the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International side of the story. You deserve a bouquet. As for the manufacturers and dealers who have ignored the common good of this country to protect individual interests, I bestow upon you, the brickbat award!

Burch Falkner
Birmingham, Ala.



If I followed the progress correctly, it started as analog, then frequency division multiplexing (FDM) and then one manufacturer decided to do time division multiplexing (TDM), and everybody is now forced into TDM.

No wonder the agencies now buy their own systems. The pricing went through the roof. TETRA is even cheaper than Project 25 (P25). The other digital formats are actually very reliable, and I think they might prove more rugged than P25. I think they try to cram too much into one protocol, and somewhere along the line the wheels start to fall off. Maybe as John Johnson says, they need to sharpen their pencils considerably.

Leon van der Linde?
Global Communications
Pretoria, South Africa



In response to the July issue of MissionCritical Communications


Thanks for the “Dispatch” editorial. I thought it was very perceptive and was right on. Public safety would have benefited greatly from a deeper bench of government-side engineers during the Project 25 (P25) development to direct the process. Thankfully, with the Long Term Evolution (LTE) effort, the people from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are onboard and seem to have a good understanding of the technology and the importance of a foundation of a global standards based technologies to the success of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). It also seems like beyond sound engineering, good basic accounting to ensure the FirstNet concept is supported by a robust, realistic, complete and well-documented financial model.

Mark Hoppe
Principal Consultant
Blue Wing Services
St. Paul, MN




I was reading in the July issue, and it reminds me of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International document I read about a week ago where the various VHF frequencies were listed for public safety.

As I was reading through the list of frequencies for public safety, I saw some old friends on the interoperability list that have been around a very long time and were actually the premier interoperability channels. This included law enforcement mutual aid, fire department mutual aid, and the nationwide medical ambulance calling frequency. I was horrified to see in addition to all the other VHF frequencies on the list that these old friends received CTCSS tone of 156.7 MHz. I have to wonder about toning these very old novel interoperable frequencies.

I sent messages to our state interoperability communications director as well as to APCO. The state director sympathized with me but there wasn't much he could do on the state level to change this. I never did hear back from APCO.

Since the other VHF channels are new to me and possibly many others, toning them is no big deal. In Iowa, we had something called the Iowa channel. This was a VHF frequency 151.475 MHz with the 156.7 MHz tone that worked very well as an interoperability channel, keeping the other novel interoperable frequencies clear of non-emergency traffic.

I hope further up the ladder somewhere possibly in APCO, these older frequencies would remain on open status as they have been for years.

Thank you for letting me comment.

Lynn A. Reasor
Sigourney, Iowa




I am trying to save the city hall where the first 9-1-1 call was received Feb. 16, 1968. Haleyville, Ala., is where the 9-1-1 code was created.

Our mayor and council plan to sell this historic landmark to a developer who will proceed to tear the building down and replace it with a CVS drug store. We already have one in town now. Also slated to go is our fire station because it sits directly behind city hall. This city hall is being used today by the mayor and staff, police department, water department, municipal court and dispatch.

Please see my website savethehomeof911.com. I have added two online petition sites to the website.

Valerie Taylor



In response to “South Wales Police Consolidate 9-9-9 Call Handling to 1 Center” from June 27


Without local knowledge, which I have found to be missing from this service, it is useless. I live within the force area and have used this service; therefore, I am able to comment from experience.

John Follant



In response to “Tips to Take Back Coverage” from the June issue of MissionCritical Communications as posted on Facebook


In the great scheme of things and the lack of wisdom for the country mice, our government has decided to narrowband public-safety frequencies. Now the country mice can't hear their pagers, their radios don't work well, and we miss calls. It works well for cities but not for the country.

Our problem is city folks don't know what it takes in the country to make things work. We have steep mountains and deep valleys and not enough repeaters because of local government restraints. Nobody at the federal level apparently ever worked on a radio. Most of them are professors deep in their books but have never had to work in the field. All the studies by the city fire chief worked well, but it doesn't work for us. I'm just an old-fashioned country fire chief with better than 50 years at the job. I have worked on radios since the early 1960s and consider myself someone who knows what needs to be done.

Narrowbanding will work in the central plains of America in large cities but where you get in the mountains and valleys and into heavily timbered land where there is extreme vegetation, then narrowbanding doesn't work in 150 MHz. 450 MHz hardly works at all and frequencies above don't work at all in the heavily wooded and dense forests from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Redwood forests of California and down to the Pacific Ocean.

Narrowbanding just doesn't work. The system needs to be re-engineered and re-evaluated when you don't get your radio calls. When your pagers don't work, there are lives at risk. The other problem with narrowband is that old radios sometimes can't be changed, and fire departments don't all have huge tax dollars to buy new radios. There is no money according to the state and the federal government to finance new state-of-the-art radios for agencies that are not tax supported.

I'm sure we’re not the only ones that have these problems. Write your congressman or senators and other important legislative individuals. Maybe if all the fire chiefs put enough pressure on their respective politicians we can make some changes. People who head up boards and commissions need to have some working expertise in the field they are ruling on.

R.D. Beacon



In response to “2 U.S. Utilities Sign Contracts for TETRA Equipment” from July 2


What is nice about using TETRA is that you can later add monitor modems that can monitor substations, and you can switch your substations through these modems. We have a system running locally on TETRA with not only speech, but also monitoring and switching done through the TETRA network.

We are running a large amount of sites to cover a medium-size city. Five sites seem a small amount for what I imagine must be a large area. We work on one site per 10 to 15 miles by 10- to 15-mile square areas.

This is at least a start. I am glad TETRA is finally get a foothold in the States.

Leon van der Linde
Global Communications
Pretoria, South Africa



In response to “Steps to Follow for Mexican Border 800 MHz Rebanding


My firm was very disappointed on how the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA) handled questions and answers during the TA’s 800 MHz rebanding meeting held in McAllen, Texas on June 27.

Due to a number of loop holes and nondefined technical/administrative issues on the TA guidelines, the TA could not tell me the following:

1) The intermodulation (IM) order required for IM studies

2) If the vendors, consultants and/or Motorola Solutions representative would be paid for attendance to the TA’s 800 MHz rebanding meeting held in McAllen

One would think that after several years of handling the 800 MHz rebanding, the TA should have better answers and fully defined guidelines.

Enrique Flores, P.E.
CES Network Services


Click here for the June 2013 Inbox.
Click here for the May 2013 Inbox.
Click here for the April 2013 Inbox.




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