A battle over public safety radio plans

The Lady Gaga-MyTSA link
Transportation Security Administration
Sept. 22, 2010

Lady Gaga provides Blogger Bob with an opportunity to highlight a new mobile application now available from the Transportation Security Administration.

Blogger Bob notes that a lot of people were probably puzzled by recent reports about the ubiquitous being permitted to take handcuffs through a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport. Handcuffs certainly seem like something that be prohibited, but that’s not the case.

“Why not, you might ask? They’re not a threat,” he writes. “You can’t do any real damage with a pair of handcuffs and if you really wanted to tie someone’s hands behind their back, there are many other ways you could do it.”

But anyone who is still confused can check out the MyTSA App, which includes a “Can I Bring My…” tool, which makes it easy to do a quick check while packing for a trip, Blogger Bob notes. The tool is available as an iPhone or Mobile Web App; it’s also available on the TSA Web site.

A Battle Over Public Safety Radios (Part I)
Source: Washington State Rep. Reuven Carlyle
Sept. 6, 2010

Facing a scheduled cutoff of vendor support for its police and fire radio network, officials from Seattle and King County are pondering investment plans for the next-generation wireless voice and broadband data systems for area first responders. Unfortunately, those plans put the region on the same path to excessively overpriced proprietary systems that it’s been locked into before, argues Reuven Carlyle, a state representative from Washington’s 36th district, in his blog.

Instead, Carlyle thinks officials should push for a system that more closely resembles the competitive market of commercial cell phone services and perhaps even includes buying some first-responder devices that use those commercial networks — though they would get priority access during emergencies.

Carlyle opposes a plan by some city officials to apply for a federal grant to build a wireless network based on fourth-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, similar to a federally funded $50 million broadband project under way in the San Francisco area.

“Public safety is building their own mirror system to commercial services,” writes Carlyle about the LTE initiative. “A mirror system that is on track to be proprietary, closed and expensive like our existing first-responder radio systems.”

Nor does he think the answer lies in another option to buy $5,000 radios based on Project 25, a digital, public safety radio standard in the United States. He says the P25 radios don’t enjoy competitive pricing and aren’t even interoperable as intended.

Instead, Carlyle proposes that Seattle buy public safety voice radios based on the Terrestrial Trunked Radio standard that is common in Europe and Asia until a truly open and standards-based national wireless broadband plan for U.S. first responders is in place.

A Battle Over Public Safety Radios (Part II)
Source: Seattle CTO Bill Schrier
Sept. 9, 2010

The reason first responders require $5,000 radios that use their own dedicated network is because consumer cell phone services and $200 handsets don’t come close to providing the reliability, ruggedness, service prioritization and other special features that public safety officials require for their communications, writes Seattle Chief Technology Officer Bill Schrier in response to Washington State Representative Reuven Carlyle’s blog post on the issue.

Schrier concedes that the proprietary nature of existing public safety radio technologies, including Project 25, drives up their costs to sky-high levels. But he says Carlyle’s proposal to buy $500 Terrestrial Trunked Radio-based radios is unworkable and even dangerous because the technology is not used anywhere else in the United States. (Editor's note: Those who enjoy conspiracy theories — and can tolerate some serious geek-talk debate — should do a Web search on “Why TETRA radios are not used in the U.S.”)

The best plan is to build new, dedicated public safety networks that use fourth-generation Long Term Evolution technology, the same technology that Verizon and AT&T are using to build their next-generation commercial cell networks. “Because everyone — consumers, cops, firefighters and even general government workers such as transportation and utilities — are all using LTE, constructing the networks can be much cheaper,” Schrier writes.

Special purpose, ruggedized LTE handsets should also be cheaper because of the standardized technology platform. If universally adopted by state and local governments, LTE should also solve the lack of interoperability of first-responder communications equipment, Schrier said. The path to LTE is far from set in stone at this point, but he says it is the right one.

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