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Fire Dept Tests P25 Radios

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carterblumeyer

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#1
Prior to January 1, 2013, emergency service departments nationwide will need to comply with the new FCC narrowband guidelines. On February 24, 2010 the Maple Bluff Fire Department (MBFD) in Dane County WI performed an unbiased and impartial radio test. They compared the sound quality of the Kenwood TK-5210, Motorola XTS-2500, Motorola XTS-5000, Motorola APX-7000, EF Johnson SL 5100, Tait 9135, and ICOM 9011 under normal firefighter work conditions. These radios were tested in Digital and Analog modes. The Maple Bluff Fire Department is not endorsing any particular manufacturer, vendor, or radio type, and realize there are radios on the market that were not tested. The radios seen in this test were selected by availability at the time of the test. We hope this video is useful and informative for you and your department.

The 51SL ES Alternate or beta version is the latest AMBE+2 vocoder version 1.6 from the version 1.4 in the radio now. This is the latest vocoder version adopted by the APCO P25 Steering board. The new vocoder will be released as part of software release due out late summer to upgrade ES version 1.4.

Narrowband Radio Test (Maple Bluff Fire Department Official Site)
 

carterblumeyer

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#3
I am not to sure the quality of the GRE scanner, but if the scanner has a bad receiver and is not a good one to begin with but can hear some of those radios crystal CLEAR what would that say about how good a really good scanner would hear? To me if the wost scanner can make a radio sound like some of them in the test then that just tells me even more on which radio to get! It can only get better!
 

mdulrich

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#4
What kind of a professional radio gear test uses a GRE scanner as a receiver to base
the results on????
Which radio would you recommend that they should have used that would not show a potential bias toward a particular brand of transmitting radio? Remember, you are going to have to use the same radio for all tests to remove a variable.

Mike
 
N

N_Jay

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#5
Obviously you need to use them all.

Overall audio quality is a factor of both the transmitting and receiving unit.

Doing good tests is a science. Doing unscientific tests usually creates more myths than it uncovers facts.
 
N

N_Jay

Guest
#7
While a scanner may not produce as good audio as a matching radio, at least it is a common receiver.
EXCEPT it does not have any vocoder improvements (that I know of) so any improvement and or optimization of the decoding portion of the vocoder SW and HW is ignored.

Sorry, it makes the test of radios with different vocoder versions relatively meaningless.

Many of us are anxiously awaiting the new NIST tests scheduled in a couple of months if not further delayed. See this story in Urgent
Yes!!!!!!
 
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#8
Which radio would you recommend that they should have used that would not show a potential bias toward a particular brand of transmitting radio? Remember, you are going to have to use the same radio for all tests to remove a variable.

Mike
I would not presume to recomend any one radio. That would be up to those
testing the radio gear to standardize on. But any professional radio gear testing
usually gets done with professional radio gear and NOT non-professional radio
gear such as scanners.
 
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#9
I will go Analog on this one.

It sounds like you get what you pay for, audio wise and Analog wins again over digital, again and again and... !
 

mdulrich

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#10
While using a scanner as the receiver may not give you optimized audio, it does show the differences in radios and modulation without entering a bias towards or against one manufacturer. They were eliminating a variable in the testing. Lets say they used an ABC radio, there would be claims that XYZ radio didn't sound as good because of the ABC radio.

It is amazing that with using a scanner the digital audio isn't completely destroyed by background noise as some have claimed. Using professional radios would sound even better.

Mike
 
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#11
While using a scanner as the receiver may not give you optimized audio, it does show the differences in radios and modulation without entering a bias towards or against one manufacturer. They were eliminating a variable in the testing. Lets say they used an ABC radio, there would be claims that XYZ radio didn't sound as good because of the ABC radio.

It is amazing that with using a scanner the digital audio isn't completely destroyed by background noise as some have claimed. Using professional radios would sound even better.

Mike
Thank you for all the positive comments regarding our test. I want to take just a moment to reply and clarify some of our test methods that everyone seems to have the biggest problems with.

We understand that a scanner is not the optimal receiver for the radio test; however the part that you can not see from the video is that the scanner audio is being fed directly by a high quality audio cable into a production quality camera that we borrowed. The reason we did this was to eliminate any background noise or potential for contamination from outside noise. The radio transmission you hear from the scanner is “pure” audio coming directly out of the scanner.

Our county is going through the process of getting a completely new radio infrastructure. To date, we really don’t know what the end design will be, however we have the budget money to get radios now. This means that we are testing radios that will work for us now, and on the new system. This also means that as the system moves forward, it’s likely that every one of the 26 other fire and EMS agencies in the county will have a different brand of radio, set up differently. A scanner provided a consistent receiver for our evaluation.

We don’t have the luxury of scientific studies, nor are we able to use “best practices” every time. This was a real life test for us. We are firefighters who will actually be using these radios in the field, not radio engineers who are testing them to sell them. If you are a firefighter and not a radio engineer you better understand that we do not operate under ideal conditions for these radios and that’s what needs to be tested more than any other aspect of their performance.

One of the other criticisms we are hearing is regarding the programming not being optimal for the test. Most departments don’t have the luxury of a dedicated radio shop to continually tweak programming. We took these radios as they would have been delivered to us and put them to a true to life firefighter test. We understand that there are some times settings which might improve results for some radios, but we don’t want to have a firefighter get hurt because he couldn’t communicate only to find that his radio should have been sent to us with better programming in the first place.

I hope that I can answer any other questions you might have regarding our test. Based on comments that we have been getting we may conduct another test with some adjustments to procedure. Ultimately what we’ve achieved from our test being posted is the ability to network with other people who have dedicated far more time, and have far greater resources, than a small combination full time/volunteer department in Maple Bluff Wisconsin.

Brad A. Ingersoll
Asst. Chief
Maple Bluff Fire Department
 
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#12
Brad - I am not trying to be wise guy and pick apart your ideas here, rather since I am involved
everyday with network infrastructure and portable/mobiles on a large scale just trying to give
you and your county the benefit of my experience so please do not take some of my comments
the wrong way as I mean no dis-respect.

We understand that a scanner is not the optimal receiver for the radio test; however the part that you can not see from the video is that the scanner audio is being fed directly by a high quality audio cable into a production quality camera that we borrowed. The reason we did this was to eliminate any background noise or potential for contamination from outside noise. The radio transmission you hear from the scanner is “pure” audio coming directly out of the scanner.
This is irellevant.

Our county is going through the process of getting a completely new radio infrastructure. To date, we really don’t know what the end design will be, however we have the budget money to get radios now. This means that we are testing radios that will work for us now, and on the new system. This also means that as the system moves forward, it’s likely that every one of the 26 other fire and EMS agencies in the county will have a different brand of radio, set up differently.
If you do not know what type of system it will be how can one purchase radio gear optioned correctly
for it. Will it be conventional analog, conventional digital, analog trunking, digital trunking????

What type of system it is will have a bearing on what radios will function on the system and also have
a bearing on the cost of the radios. Someone in your county gov must know and let you know in
advance so you can make the proper purchases. It is also likely that someone in the county that
is in the know about the network infrastructure will have to make some ground rules as to what
mobile/portable radio equipment is usable and what is not. Allowing all these seperate agencies
to use so many different radio gear brands can lead to trouble, for example: The network infrastructure
gets a software or firmware upgrade on all the base stations and then all of a sudden brand X portables
no longer can communicate with dispatch. The FD or EMS agency in question protests to county that
they are now responsible for getting all of their portables working in a hurry. This is just one example
of what can happen when too many hands are in the cooking pot so to speak. My point is there has to
be some control maintained by the county on county network infrastructure and there may be some
rules to adhere to.

This was a real life test for us. We are firefighters who will actually be using these radios in the field, not radio engineers who are testing them to sell them. If you are a firefighter and not a radio engineer you better understand that we do not operate under ideal conditions for these radios and that’s what needs to be tested more than any other aspect of their performance.
Exactly the reason you don't want to make a decision based on what you hear on a scanner, and
the radio engineers you just dissed are very much up on the audio problem issues and have made
a lot of firmware changes to accomodate high ambient noise levels in many models which is what
you may have already benefited from in your testing with the high noise levels.

One of the other criticisms we are hearing is regarding the programming not being optimal for the test. Most departments don’t have the luxury of a dedicated radio shop to continually tweak programming. We took these radios as they would have been delivered to us and put them to a true to life firefighter test. We understand that there are some times settings which might improve results for some radios, but we don’t want to have a firefighter get hurt because he couldn’t communicate only to find that his radio should have been sent to us with better programming in the first place.
All the more reason that the county may have to standardize on a small group of models perhaps
across two or three brands. With too many brands this can get out of hand in a hurry.

I hope that I can answer any other questions you might have regarding our test. Based on comments that we have been getting we may conduct another test with some adjustments to procedure. Ultimately what we’ve achieved from our test being posted is the ability to network with other people who have dedicated far more time, and have far greater resources, than a small combination full time/volunteer department in Maple Bluff Wisconsin.

Brad A. Ingersoll
Asst. Chief
Maple Bluff Fire Department
I hope I and others on RR can answer any other of your questions as well.
 
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#13
Being in a rural area of Texas, I understand what Brad is going through. Unfortunately, far too many sales reps, and engineer/techs are not on the fireground, in a real life situation, to fully understand what these folks are going through. Not all counties in the U.S. have the informed people making the decisions, and funding actually needed. They get smoke blown up, well you know where, and think that is the ONLY way to go, and damn it, that is they way it's going to be. After all is said, and done, it is discovered, several thousands to millions of tax dollars are needed to make the system actually work to the point of officer/firefighter safety. The reports are in the media all the time, how a system was ready to be put in service, and all of a sudden, since it took so long to locate and install the gear, it needs more equipment to make it work. I am seeing it all through the Texas area, and reading it in various places nationwide. I watched with no immediate way to help during the early stages of Katrina. I know one response is that things have changed, because lessons were learned. Ok, maybe, but it's NOT real apparent. I have out my life on the line with marginal equipment in the past. I am fortunate that my son is working for an agency that has much better gear, and informed people who are protecting him, and those who work with him each day. You will NEVER fully understand this, until you call for help, and it doesn't show, because the gear failed.... I was forced into retirement because of this, and have moderate use of a limb due to that. I am fortunate that I get a small "thanks" check each month, but nowhere near what I was able to make while on duty. My help showed up far too late, but I survived. How many others have not??? Get the testing ability to ALL departments, let them do the tests in their surroundings, and make the equipment work. Worry about the bonuses later.
Knightrider...
 
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#14
Not a realistic test

What kind of a professional radio gear test uses a GRE scanner as a receiver to base
the results on????
I have to agree that the test they did was not a realistic test and has only provided some information for using simplex transmissions in a fire ground situation. Personally I don't see any reason to purchase new radios until their system in built and near the point of being accepted. The system administration will have a final list of approved radios and the prices may be cheaper once the purchase contracts are complete. Why risk buying radios now, when they may not be allowed on the new system?

There are too many variables because of the differences in wide / narror VHF, P25 Trunked, LTR, etc. The basic tests showed how the noise canceling features of each radio worked under a simulated environment.
 
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#15
Another reply

I’m finally able to come back and reply back to some of the comments made by all. I know that no disrespect was meant. I dislike how some times anything you type online can be misconstrued as hostile. We are simply the first and most serious department about testing the radios instead of just buying them. I whole-heartedly appreciate all of the comments and feedback from everybody.

The biggest thing I feel that I have to clarify is what I mean by my statement that the end design is not set. For the most part our new system will be VHF digital P25. The part that we are having trouble agreeing on is the fire ground simplex. The City of Madison wants ALL of their radio transmissions to go through the digital system and therefore not necessarily be simplex. The rest of us, however, want to ensure that we have the ability to use simplex fire ground channels. The problem is that it will cost substantially more to have dispatch be able to monitor and talk to us on these simplex only channels. The uncertainty is weather the system will be purely P25 with everything going through the radios system, or if it will be a hybrid of P25 with conventional analog simplex channels so that we can have fire ground channels which are monitored by dispatch. NFPA recommends that interior firefighters use simple channels. This is why it is important to us to know how the radio performs in both digital and analog modes.

Again, I understand how the scanner is not the optimal receiver, but I don’t see how it would EVER be possible in this county to ensure what brands of radios will ever be talking back and forth to one another. If there’s a better test method, short of trying every possible radio pairing under all the conditions we simulated, then I’m game to hear it so that we can try it. We do want to test to the best of our abilities.
We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from the posting of our test and are very much open to suggestions. Some engineers are very receptive to our methods, did like the scanner as a base receiver, and though that the test was valid enough to show what we wanted to find out. Some are completely the opposite. I’m glad to say that either way; most of them seem to want to help make sure that the best radios are in the hands of the guys using them.

If there are any other documented tests that anyone knows of I’d be very interested in seeing them.

As a last comment for today I’ll admit again that I do not claim to be any sort of radio expert. I will however state that we know more than the average firefighter, which equates to “just enough to be dangerous.” We only want to continue to learn what makes these things tick because we are focused on firefighter safety more than any other aspect of the radios functionality. Be weary of the chief who is a self proclaimed expert at anything.

Thanks again.

Brad A. Ingersoll
Assistant Chief
Maple Bluff Fire Department

PS: This is not the only test we did to base our radio purchase on. This is just the only one we recorded for others to see.
 
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mdulrich

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#16
Brad, if you haven't already done so I would contact the Phoenix, Arizona FD, they did some extensive testing of digital radios, some of which you can find by searching the internet.

Mike
 
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#17
Anything but Motorola there!

Brad, if you haven't already done so I would contact the Phoenix, Arizona FD, they did some extensive testing of digital radios, some of which you can find by searching the internet.

Mike
Many members of our department have attended speaking seminars featuring their former Chief, Alan Brunacini. Al was very involved in that test process and as a result is not a big fan of the bat wings. When he does any public speaking, any time something has a glitch, or goes wrong he will claim that it must have been made by Motorola!

I'll see what else we can get from them. Thanks for the reminder

Brad
 
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#19
Hi Brad - you still have not told us if this system will be P25 "conventional" or "trunking" which can make a big difference in overall system design. Will it be a simulcast system? Will it be a P25 CAI? The answers to these questions need to be known before any end user equipment can be selected and tested.

Typically equipment tested is first tested in a lab environment to make certain the selected equipment
meets or exceeds the manufactures specs, then field testing can begin after the system is at a level
that it can be utilized for a minimum battery of tests to be performed. An independent contractor/s can
be hired to come up with a system test plan to make certain that the system performs as expected
and any anomalies are identified and corrected before the system is accepted by the county or some
knowledgeable county officials(if they exist) can do so.

I do agree about the fire depts having simplex fire ground channels to use for fire ground ops but it
is not necessary for the county dispatch center to be able to communicate directly on the fire ground
channels. The incident commander(or what ever his title is) can serve as the "go between" in this
situation and can have two radios - one on the fire ground channel and the other on the channel used
to communicate with dispatch and can relay if necessary. For the county to add the capability to
communicate on the fire ground channels across the entire county is most probably going to be
way too costly.

I am not certain about "documented tests" as I tried to google that can came up with thousands of
hits which is way too much for me to weed through although I thought that the NFPA already had
some sort of testing criteria but I could be wrong about that. If not I am sure that the TIA org most
probably has some testing criteria.
 
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#20
Hi Brad - you still have not told us if this system will be P25 "conventional" or "trunking" which can make a big difference in overall system design. Will it be a simulcast system? Will it be a P25 CAI? The answers to these questions need to be known before any end user equipment can be selected and tested.

Typically equipment tested is first tested in a lab environment to make certain the selected equipment
meets or exceeds the manufactures specs, then field testing can begin after the system is at a level
that it can be utilized for a minimum battery of tests to be performed. An independent contractor/s can
be hired to come up with a system test plan to make certain that the system performs as expected
and any anomalies are identified and corrected before the system is accepted by the county or some
knowledgeable county officials(if they exist) can do so.

I do agree about the fire depts having simplex fire ground channels to use for fire ground ops but it
is not necessary for the county dispatch center to be able to communicate directly on the fire ground
channels. The incident commander(or what ever his title is) can serve as the "go between" in this
situation and can have two radios - one on the fire ground channel and the other on the channel used
to communicate with dispatch and can relay if necessary. For the county to add the capability to
communicate on the fire ground channels across the entire county is most probably going to be
way too costly.

I am not certain about "documented tests" as I tried to google that can came up with thousands of
hits which is way too much for me to weed through although I thought that the NFPA already had
some sort of testing criteria but I could be wrong about that. If not I am sure that the TIA org most
probably has some testing criteria.

Sorry about my earlier omissions. The system will be P25 trunking. I can’t say for sure if it’s going to be simulcast in anyway and I’ll admit that I’m ignorant to what CAI means.

The issue of dispatch being able to monitor our simplex fire-ground channels has been one of the biggest items of contention here. Many people, all of whom are not firefighters, feel that it’s not necessary for dispatch to hear our transmissions; however there have been many documented cases of dispatchers hearing mayday transmissions before anybody on the actual fire scene. Anybody who’s operated on an actual fire ground understands that there is almost always WAY too much noise going on for on-scene people to hear every radio transmission. We try to fix this problem by wearing radio headsets and by bringing in a mobile command vehicle for incident commanders to operate from, but this isn’t always possible during the initial operational period. As a county, including City of Madison, we’ve all decided that we want the dispatcher listening to the operational channel and if they hear a may-day call, they are to alert command and sound the emergency tones. An additional $30,000 was approved to find a way to make this happen, but how exactly it’s going to happen, has the engineer type people doing some work.

One of the most active firefighters involved in radio evaluations is Ashley Strickland from the Indianapolis area. He became aware of our video and has since contacted us regarding testing he’s done and stuff he’s involved in with different vendors. It’s been quite an education to say the least. He’s shared a lot of great contact information and has given us some info on how to adjust our intra-department evaluation.

Our ring leader here in Dane County is Randy Pickering, Chief of the Fitchburg Fire Department. His knowledge of radios and technologies far exceeds my imagination. Other than picking radios for my firefighters to use, I’m not involved in any of the building of the new radio system. My chief, however, is on that committee and may have a few more specifics. Plenty of very competent people are working through our system design and implementation. Our little radio video isn’t even a molecule in a drip of water in the bucket which is this whole ordeal.

Brad A. Ingersoll
 
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