Fire chiefs question new digital radio system

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kadetklapp

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Go figure. I can't believe it took this long to call MECA out, I just wish someone would do it to the Safe-T fanboys who believe their laywer-designed radio system is "teh win!"

Digital is too reliant on wired tower sites and the technology is so new that most public agencies don't even understand how to use it.

Give those fire depts an analog mutual aid channel (like Safe-T has) and they will be able to make do.

This is what happens when politicians and Mother /\/\ collaborate.
 

SLWilson

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Well...

Go figure. I can't believe it took this long to call MECA out, I just wish someone would do it to the Safe-T fanboys who believe their laywer-designed radio system is "teh win!"

Digital is too reliant on wired tower sites and the technology is so new that most public agencies don't even understand how to use it.

Give those fire depts an analog mutual aid channel (like Safe-T has) and they will be able to make do.

This is what happens when politicians and Mother /\/\ collaborate.
Actually, if their system is DESIGNED CORRECTLY, digital is OK for on-scene communications. But, the system MUST be designed to allow for penetration of buildings WHERE THEY GO!

In most digital systems, there ARE 800 Mhz analog frequencies set up for use as simplex channels for on scene comms. However I don't like the range or "penetration" capabilities of that frequency. UHF is better for that and VHF Hi band is even better than that!

The story talks about the firefighters using the radios in their bunker gear and those outside not being able to understand what they say. Again, locally, the FD's have purchased ear/bone mikes. The PTT switch can be set up for VOX or using the large TX button outside of their gear to key the radio. The bone mike makes the transmission clear.

Again, what they buy. Their system design at the onset, and deployment are where it is at to "make or break" a digital system...

Many do not understand the importance of the design stage in a digital communications system. You MUST tell your vendor, be it MOTO or anyone else WHAT YOU EXPECT or NEED the system to do, demonstrate WHERE you need it to work from before you sign the first contract!!!!!

I COMPLETELY AGREE with you that the newer digital is way above most current "volunteer" public safety workers. AND, volunteer is the MAJORITY of fire service in Ohio.

What is sad is, they really DO need interops. But, give them a radio with much more that an ON/OFF knob and a VOLUME control and they can't talk to anyone on it, either through complacency or just by REFUSING to learn the radio features....

Full time departments pretty much "make" their staff learn the features. They practice with it. They understand it.

Steve/KB8FAR :cool:
 
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jerk

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A simple and cheaper solution, though I don't know the capacity of Safe-T sites. Even if they paid to add additional channels, it would still be cheaper than want the firefighter currently want.

So if the firefighters want analog... they could use Tactical groups on Safe-T using existing (new) digital radios. And it would be cheaper, and they could record communications etc.

But it would come down to capacity of the sites in Marion County.
 

ads47

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Steve your comments and quotes only show that you didn't read the article or pay attention to the topic of it.

The articles focus is on the problems with digital radios and voice intelligibility in high ambient noise environments. It has nothing to do with coverage, the new MECA system tested at over 98% with 100% in 26 critical buildings. Coverage isn't the issue.

You mention that your local agencies have purchased in ear bone mic's. That is a very dangerous and ill researched solution to the problem. There currently isn't a bone mic on the market that is approved for structural firefighting. They work well in other situtuations and honestly can work well in firefighting. They present several problems however. One is they are cumbersome to use and switch between on diferent calls, the main problem is if you are in a structure and lose the in ear piece you have no communications at the point and cant replace it while geared up. None of the current designs of interface boxes allow you to quickly pull a cable or switch and gain back full radio functionality. Those issues could be over come with better designs, and we have tested some prototypes that are promising. But no matter how hard you try you cant over some the biggest problem. The ear piece it self has mass and therefore acts as a HUGE heat sink in an extremely sensitive area of the body. We have tested with them in controlled environments and all of the brands we tested would heat sink to the point that the firefighter wasn't unconformable at all but had to bail because the ear piece. None of the current devices have fire resistant cables either.

Another assumption you made was about the Marion Counties radios. There radios are in there coat pockets but they speak on Public Safety Microphones with unity gain antennas. So they can speak directly to the mic.

You other points on system design are dead on. You will see in some of the other stuff coming out soon that it is mentioned several times that agencies must be involved in system design from stage one. But no system design can overcome ambient noise you cant escape (ie low air alarm, or your trapped) and the degradation of the audio quality through a digital vocoder.

The bottom line is that designing two systems from the ground up and having a choice of digital or analog. For Public Safety , analog is the only choice and the data backs it up. Comparing an old analog system to a new digital system is a completely different deal, some agencies dont have the choice to run a solidly built and covered analog system. The other things you need to remember are that the point of the system is for the firefighter or police to be able to talk clearly. For them there is no advantage to digital. The advantage to digital goes to the stake holder since they gain system capacity with ID's and TalkGroups's. Remember also all these new systems could have been spec'ed with some analog tactical channels in them, there was a choice made not to. Another huge misconception is that the FCC has mandated agencies go digital. There is no such mandate, whats mandated is that you narrow-band. Which is why some narrow band testing was thrown in the mix on the NTIA test. People get confused because there has been some grant guidance that suggest that, but thats for grants not mandates and it will soon be changed.

The biggest issues that came about in the last year was trying to keep a check on the Fed's making national suggestions for fixing regional problems. 90% of the bandwidth and overcrowding problems are centered in a very small percentage of the country particularly on each coast.




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Actually, if their system is DESIGNED CORRECTLY, digital is OK for on-scene communications. But, the system MUST be designed to allow for penetration of buildings WHERE THEY GO!

In most digital systems, there ARE 800 Mhz analog frequencies set up for use as simplex channels for on scene comms. However I don't like the range or "penetration" capabilities of that frequency. UHF is better for that and VHF Hi band is even better than that!

The story talks about the firefighters using the radios in their bunker gear and those outside not being able to understand what they say. Again, locally, the FD's have purchased ear/bone mikes. The PTT switch can be set up for VOX or using the large TX button outside of their gear to key the radio. The bone mike makes the transmission clear.

Again, what they buy. Their system design at the onset, and deployment are where it is at to "make or break" a digital system...

Many do not understand the importance of the design stage in a digital communications system. You MUST tell your vendor, be it MOTO or anyone else WHAT YOU EXPECT or NEED the system to do, demonstrate WHERE you need it to work from before you sign the first contract!!!!!

I COMPLETELY AGREE with you that the newer digital is way above most current "volunteer" public safety workers. AND, volunteer is the MAJORITY of fire service in Ohio.

What is sad is, they really DO need interops. But, give them a radio with much more that an ON/OFF knob and a VOLUME control and they can't talk to anyone on it, either through complacency or just by REFUSING to learn the radio features....

Full time departments pretty much "make" their staff learn the features. They practice with it. They understand it.

Steve/KB8FAR :cool:
 

jim202

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First of all, let me say that I have read the news article and it is just full of incorrect information about
radio systems. Having worked in, designed and installed radio systems and cellular systems for over
40 years, most of the system issues I see and hear are due to several factors. First factor is that
the public safety agency got sold a bill of goods (better know as BS) about how much better digital
was over analog. That is about as far from the truth as one can go. The actual radio tower area
that it will cover is just about the same. depending on who you listen to, you will get led down the
rosy path that digital will cover a larger area and go further.

Explain to me if your using the same antenna, the same power out, how a signal can go further.
Depending on the radio design and the digital error correction (not used in all models) there is just
a slight difference in the usable range. Say the analog signal is noisy, but still understandable. The
digital radio is still clear. However, if you go just a little further, the digital radio looses the signal
all together and the analog is now real noisy. Not much of a reason to buy new radios.

The real advantage of a digital system is all the fancy features. You can have user ID displayed
on the console, you can add a feature for displaying the GPS location, you can have a feature
to download new frequency or channel info into the radio, it's called over the air programming.
There are number of other features that may add some benefit to your "DIGITAL" radio system.
Is the cost worth it, only you can answer that. Is the cost of the digital radio worth it? You still
can buy some real nice analog multi channel radios for under $1500 for the top of the line. What
are you paying for a digital radio? Are you getting your moneys worth? Is it really any better?

Has the digital system made your communications any better? Only you can answer that. I will
say that it did add a huge expense to the tax payers. Unless new tower locations were added,
I would doubt that the coverage changed much. If you went from VHF or UHF into an 800 MHz
trunking system with the same old tower locations, boy did you find out there was some changes.

The problem in understanding someone using a digital system in a high noise area is well known.
So far Motorola has been very mum on the issue. The vocoders they use in their radios are
designed to function under normal sound levels of the human voice. When these radios are used
in a high noise background area, the vocoders don't know what to do. The background noise
is not a human voice, it is at almost a constant level and as such can't decide how to convert it into
a usable digital stream. At the distant end the vocoder there has the same problem trying to
decide how to convert the digital data stream back into an analog sound. Bottom line is all
you hear coming out of the radio is uninteligable noise.

If you ever listen to a radio sales person, they are slick. They only tell you enough to be interested
in their product. They get you to let them engineer the system for you. These public safety agency
people generally don't have the technical background to figure out if they are getting a good deal
or being led down the high commission path by the sales force. Next step that is never or hardly
ever taken, is to have a third party outside the huddle take a look at what is being presented. This
outside party has no interest in making a sale, spending money or what ever. The system plans
need to be gone over to see if the agency is being presented a good plan or being taken down
the tubes and the sales person is smiling all the way to the bank. The poor foot trooper out in
the field, be it police, fire, EMS, public works or what ever, rarely gets a chance for any input.
They just get this system rammed down their operational headaches.

Jim

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ads47

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Very good points Jim. I would describe the sale tactics of most the companies as being almost crimminal in how bad they mislead. Indy actually did almost double there number of sites, and could have easily gotten the same coverage with analog and should have stayed that way. The Digital Cliff will be researched more in the next round of NTIA testing hopefully. Many companies are little graph showing audio quality over distance compared to analog sales tool that is really a joke. They dont have any testing to back up there theory based on intelligiblity. And most agenices would rather have a dirty analog tranmission than no digital any day of the week. Yes many of the manufactors have known about the ambient noise problem for a long time, problem is they never warned any of there users that they were selling systems to that they knew operated in loud enviroments. They even went as far as saying voice quality increased, which they now cant back up with any reconigzed test. I think in the next few years you will see some huge law suits against these companies and we will watch there already poor status and cheap stocks fall off the market.


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DiGiTaLD

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Digital is too reliant on wired tower sites and the technology is so new that most public agencies don't even understand how to use it.
Its not just digital voice systems. SAFE-T could be all analog voice (and a good bit of it is), and still rely too much on terrestrial infrastructure (i.e. T1 lines) that can fail in a major disaster.
 

AK9R

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First factor is that the public safety agency got sold a bill of goods (better know as BS) about how much better digital was over analog. That is about as far from the truth as one can go.
Let's give the vendor the benefit of the doubt for just a minute.

How much of this is being driven by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security mandates that public safety only invest in interoperable systems coupled with the reliance on APCO P25 as the only standard that can meet federal mandates?

If DHS is saying "you have to be interoperable" and the only open protocol that achieves that is P25, doesn't it follow that you will end up with a digital system?

Keep in mind that even though SAFE-T uses P25 for the air interface on its digital talkgroups, SAFE-T is not a P25 trunked system. It uses a proprietary trunking system from Motorola.

You can connect these dots and conclude that MECA's new P25 system is actually more compliant with federal mandates than SAFE-T...even though it apparently has no provisions for analog talkgroups.
 

ads47

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They are not mandates! They are grant guidance statements. If you want to use grant money you have to do X. The FCC nor DHS have mandated anyone go digital or buy P25! They will most likely be changed fairly quickly now too. You can also purchase a system that is P25 compliant and use tactical channels as analog with no problem is you spec it that way.

Having been involved in the Digital Issue since the beginning of the DPWG I would not give the vendors the benefit for a second!

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Interoperability is a huge money maker for radio mfgrs, when sales types start waving the doom and gloom flag in front of politicians about the lack of i/o no one wants to be the sole person that votes against it, especially when the uninformed voter sitting at home who devotes all of 15 seconds of his life to the issue sees his local elected rep as not wanting to save lives of public safety workers. I read 3 or 4 articles a month in the 2-way radio trade magazines about i/o and 99% are fluff, written by marketing types.
I did a search for "interoperability" on www.safecomprogram.gov and got almost 300 hits.

Even if radios with hundreds or thousands of channels were available i/o is still an operational issue, just because the county dog catcher is Gary can talk with a garbage truck driver in Jeffersonville doesn't mean there is a need to have that ability. JPS and others make units that take care of i/o requirements.

How many times have you heard a police unit tell the dispatcher to "advise the medics" or "let the FD know" something about the run they were on, when all the cop had to do was to change channels and speak to them directly? Probably won't happen, users are trained to stay on one channel for command and control purposes.

Anybody know if dynamic regrouping is in the P25 specs? I don't know if it was in the old MECA system, it was ch 16 in one system I monitor, although I could never find an instance of it being used.

ads47 is spot on when describing bone conducting mics, I sold and serviced all the CART /IRL teams radios for many years and became very familiar with loud background noises. I've been in the field since the Long Beach race in 1985 and so far I haven't seen anything that can beat an M-101 dynamic mic, although I have come across some new technology recently that I'm planning on testing.
 

jim202

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The Feds have backed off the original mandate of it had to be "P25" compliant to get any federal money.
Now all they are saying is that you need to have interoperability and plans in place.

The simplest way to obtain interoperability is to program the "National Interoperability" channels
into your user radios. The mobiles and portables should have both the repeater and talk around
channels set up. This way if you go into an area where there isn't any repeaters, you can still
talk directly from one radio to another. There are channels on VHF (simplex only), UHF and
800 MHz. I have left out the 700 MHz channels as there is still some footwork going on to
settle down just which channels should be used for what. Think it will be a while before
we all see the final version on that outcome.

However, and I say this based on practical field experience, mutual aid interoperability can
be solved with hardware. Problem is that the software, I mean politics probably will never be
solved. There is no place more evident that the area around the Tappan Zee Bridge region of
New York (White Plains). Here if your called by another fire dept for mutual aid, you had better
have the requesters radio channels in your radio. There is no such thing as common radio
channels being used for interop. There are other regions of the country where this also
applies. However, again, it is the local department heads that cause this to continue.

When hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast, it was the "National Interoperability"
radio channels that let agencies from all over the country talk to each other. These are
common frequencies and tone squelches that are in most state interop plans set up by
their SIEC (State Interoperability Executive Committee). You can find a bunch of information
all about the different states if you do a few simple searches. The SIEC groups have done a
fine job of putting together plans for many of the states. Now if only the agencies in those
states would adopt the practive.

Jim



Let's give the vendor the benefit of the doubt for just a minute.

How much of this is being driven by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security mandates that public safety only invest in interoperable systems coupled with the reliance on APCO P25 as the only standard that can meet federal mandates?

If DHS is saying "you have to be interoperable" and the only open protocol that achieves that is P25, doesn't it follow that you will end up with a digital system?

Keep in mind that even though SAFE-T uses P25 for the air interface on its digital talkgroups, SAFE-T is not a P25 trunked system. It uses a proprietary trunking system from Motorola.

You can connect these dots and conclude that MECA's new P25 system is actually more compliant with federal mandates than SAFE-T...even though it apparently has no provisions for analog talkgroups.
 

AK9R

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How many times have you heard a police unit tell the dispatcher to "advise the medics" or "let the FD know" something about the run they were on, when all the cop had to do was to change channels and speak to them directly?
I was thinking about this as I wrote my previous message. Thanks for teeing it up for me. ;)

I routinely hear both police and fire/EMS being dispatched on the same run. A suicidal subject or domestic violence in progress are prime examples. Invariably, the fire/EMS dispatcher tells the units on the run "Hold for law enforcement. The scene is not secure." That's important because it's not unusual in many parts of my county for the fire/EMS guys to arrive on the scene before law enforcement. So, the police show up, figure out what's going on, defuse the situation or put someone in custody, and then they key up on their talkgroup and tell their dispatcher (who is sitting a couple of consoles away from the fire/EMS dispatcher) "send in rescue". So the fire/EMS dispatcher keys up her talkgroup and tells her units "The scene is secure. Go on in."

It wouldn't be that dificult for the police guys to talk to the fire guys and vice versa. But it's a matter of developing procedures and then training to those procedures. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen. As you say, the law enforcement people want their dispatchers to run their talkgroups and the fire/EMS people want their dispatchers to run their talkgroups. Never the twain shall meet.

The whole interoperability excuse for going to 800MHz trunked digital systems just makes me want to cry. How many times have we heard public safety people in high places say "We have to have this multi-million dollar system because we can't talk to the other public safety people." Back in the dark ages when just about everybody was on VHF, it was pretty simple to make sure all the law enforement people had 155.475MHz (ILEEN in Indiana) in their radios and to make sure all the fire/EMS people had 154.280 (fire mutual aid) and 155.340 (IHERN) in their radios. Wow. Interoperability. All without spending millions of dollars on an infrastructure-based system.

I agree with ADS. These systems are not mandated. But, if you want the grant money...if you want the priviledge of bellying up to the Federal banquet table, you're going to do what they say. Just like no state in the Union was going to turn down Federal highway funds by failing to enact mandatory seat belt legislation. No state or local elected official wants to go on record of telling the Feds "No, we don't want your money." And I agree. P25 systems should have the ability to use analog, even simplex, channels for things like Fireground. Heck, use the NPSPAC channels. They're fairly quiet most of the time as it is.

Good discussion. Though we have wandered off of the "fire chiefs don't want digital" topic, it's still food for thought.
 

kadetklapp

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The whole interoperability excuse for going to 800MHz trunked digital systems just makes me want to cry. How many times have we heard public safety people in high places say "We have to have this multi-million dollar system because we can't talk to the other public safety people." Back in the dark ages when just about everybody was on VHF, it was pretty simple to make sure all the law enforement people had 155.475MHz (ILEEN in Indiana) in their radios and to make sure all the fire/EMS people had 154.280 (fire mutual aid) and 155.340 (IHERN) in their radios. Wow. Interoperability. All without spending millions of dollars on an infrastructure-based system.
Exactly! DiGiTaL D and I had that exact thought a few years ago when Safe-T was being touted as the big solution. Why not pay for mobile extenders or remote repeater sites and still use Plan-A? VHF carries over rougher terrain than 800 mhz. IHERN, ILEEN, ISPERN, Plan-A, Point-To-Point all were for "interoperability," and they were used for years.

Of course the freqs got overloaded and trunking was the option since it utilized talk groups.

I again point back to T1 reliant tower sites. How come no one sees this as a problem? We are relying on a hard-wired connection in times of unknown climate conditions, the constant threat of terrorism, the skyrocketing prices of fuel, the destabilization of the economy. What if something happens and those tower sites cannot be maintained as frequently, or what if a large earthquake or bomb occurs and those lines are severed?? Ya boy, screwed the pooch then.

Other than the massive cost, I do not have any real issues with using the Safe-T or new MECA systems as a user. I DO have problems with the seemingly uncaring disregard for the "Old systems" such as Plan-a, Point, and ILEEN. Those radio systems must be maintained and dispatchers and officers, firefighters, etc should still be trained in their use and the proper protocall. FEMA and DHS want a bulletproof radio network? Develop and train in the use of P-25 and VHF conventional systems and invest in those as WELL.

Our Plan-A radio traffic in Montgomery County is for the most part ignored in dispatch, and the radios are falling apart in the cars. No one cares.
 
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DiGiTaLD

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What is P25?

Develop and train in the use of P-25 and VHF conventional systems and invest in those as WELL.
Truth is, "P-25" isn't just an 800 MHz trunking standard. You can have P25-complaint conventional or trunking on VHF, UHF, 700 MHz, and 800 MHz. For example, the State of Texas is implementing conventional VHF P25 for their DPS statewide. It's P25-compliant, but its conventional (non-trunked) and on the VHF band - however its no more and no less P25-compliant than the new MECA system. In fact, P25 is no more "interoperable" than analog. It is a digital communications standard for both trunking and conventional radio, and the only reason its even considered "interoperable" is because its an open standard that just about any manufacturer can make radios for.

SAFE-T isn't even P25 compliant because its a proprietary Motorola trunking network with P25 modulation used on only some of the talkgroups. The new MECA system is truly P25 compliant, however, as it uses the open-standard P25 control channel architecture.

"Interoperability" has become a buzz word for DHS and radio salesmen to throw out at public safety officials who buy into it wholeheartedly without even knowing what it really means.
 
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Talked with some dispatchers today who said even the FM radio playing in the background of a police car caused the radio audio to have some slight to moderate distortions.
 
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