ViewsLetter(SM) on Provisioning

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ViewsLetter on Provisioning        5 Nov. 2004         #42

Provisioning automation--from chips to the business layer.
       By V. Kaminsky, Associate Editor

With this issue of ViewLetter, Flanagan Consulting begins a series related to Homeland Security--specifically, how to provision communications services for first responders such as police, paramedics, and fire.  The topic is always important and now very timely--recent events showed that incompatibility of communications equipment prevents government agencies from communicating with each other. Many first responders have outdated radios, which can't respond reliably or quickly in many plausible emergency scenarios.


The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 publicly exposed major vulnerabilities in communications systems for government agencies.  First responders could not communicate between departments, the result of incompatible and outdated radios utilizing different proprietary technology.  Fortunately, industry and government learned a lesson and opened a new era in radio development.  A Wireless Public Safety Interoperable Communications Program is housed within the recently created Office of Interoperability and Compatibility at the Department of Homeland Security.

The need for standards became apparent in the 1980s as manufacturers began offering improvements to the functionality and efficiency of their analog radio systems.  Better, more secure systems emerged, but each manufacturer used unique protocols to provide these enhancements. 

In the U.S., more than 2.5 million first responders work within more than 50,000 public-safety organizations--police, fire, emergency medical, and public-health.   Volunteers constitute 85 percent of fire personnel, and nearly as many emergency management technicians are volunteers with elected leadership.  Each group might make its own decision about which radios to buy.

These agencies shared the mission of national security but until this year had no means to coordinate technical polices.   As a result, they did not establish a homogeneous network infrastructure, plan adequately for network redundancy, or provide for continuity of operations.  They also had problems with keeping first responders' communications tools in line with the newest technological trends.

These volunteers not always technically educated and they need communications means that guarantee ease of operation and high reliability.


The key to network and radio interoperability are two maturing radio communications standards known as
--Project 25, or P25 for short, which gained popularity exclusively in the U.S, and
--TETRA, which was developed by ETSI in Europe and spread around the world.

The P25 standard was developed by industry and public sector officials and published by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO).  P25 brings Land Mobile Radios (LMRs) into the digital world and seeks to eliminate the incompatibilities that hamper first responder analog systems.  Similarly, TETRA provides backwards compatibility, digitized voice, and many enhanced features.

Equipment built to these standards is compatible with existing analog radios, which means that cash-strapped public organizations can introduce new standards gradually, while they continue using their existing LMRs.

Interoperability, which these standards bring, is not the only advantage, however.  Because they address the use of digital technology, they efficiently use a narrow band of the radio spectrum.  Spectrum efficiency is a mandate by the governments and a practical necessity for local organizations as signals from wireless phones, televisions, and commercial radio crowd the airwaves.

Although P25 and TETRA focus on voice communication, they also bring new data applications to handsets.  Because they can use voice-over-IP protocols, users can send IP data mixed with voice via LMR networks.  Eventually, equipment could be used to send video information such as pictures of terrorists or guidance on handling hazardous materials to the handsets of first responders in the field.


Not everyone's jumping on the new standards bandwagon, however.  Two perceptions cloud the picture on this subject:
--Overcrowded spectrum, and
--Old techniques are cheap and reliable and nothing can be changed.

The public safety community is possibly correct in their assertion that they are critically short of frequencies.  Congress has instructed the FCC to consider additional spectrum for public safety uses.  A similar situation exists around the world.

It is also true that they have been slow to adopt new technologies that could provide much more efficient use of the spectrum.  Most public safety radio systems remain based on 50-year old spectrum technology:  i.e., single-channel, 15 kHz bandwidth analog FM radio.

There is no serious research on whether spectrum-efficient systems would allow public safety communications requirements to be met using the spectrum that they already possess. The public safety community has claimed that these more advanced systems are not suitable for public safety functions and have declared that public safety needs can be met only by massive amounts of new spectrum.

The new standards and technology address these concerns.  Besides compatibility, they bring such features as effective spectrum utilization, which became possible using digital modulation techniques.


A new public safety architecture would be based on a multi-site radio system shared among many government agencies. It would, ideally, replace the large number of independent radio systems that currently serve Federal, State, and local organizations. This single government radio entity would serve a metropolitan area or provide statewide coverage.  Federal users would be a part of the appropriate local or statewide system serving their area of operations. That was envisioned when P25 and TETRA standards were developed.

Many individual agencies and municipalities will buy into the system over the next 2-5 years as their existing radio systems are replaced for obsolescence or expanded to meet growth needs.  Private and corporate use of the system could be allowed, when the need for a higher level of communications robustness justifies the cost (this would be almost inevitable if the service were provided by a private corporation).

The initial cost to deploy such systems is quite high.  Today a P25 or TETRA  radio costs one to two thousands dollars.   The base station infrastructure for these systems is also expensive.  In spite of this, new equipment is gaining a lot of interest, mostly due to government mandates to rebuild public safety communications infrastructure to utilize the narrow spectrum. 

On the bright side, a mass market based on open standards and competition among vendors will drive prices down. (Cellular telephones cost $2000-3000 when first introduced.)  The digital system, shared across agencies, will also reduce the incremental cost of adding a user and make self-provisioning of new radio sets a logical step forward.

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      For a close look at more than two dozen PON companies, you are invited to purchase the report, "PON Industry Players--2004" available from Flanagan Consulting.  Offered on paper and a PDF file via email, this 25-page document describes each company's products, shows which market segments they participate in, and provides current contact information.  Either form is priced at US$60.00, payable by check to Flanagan Consulting, 45472 Holiday Dr. #3, Sterling, VA 20166.
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-- Call us for a vendor-neutral network architecture and strategy for expansion or convergence.  We know voice AND data--and how to avoid expensive bear traps on the migration path, such as security arrangements. 
-- Working on product positioning or a marketing message for telecom?   Yes, we've done that--for hardware products and carrier services.
-- Need an Expert Witness?  Associates at Flanagan Consulting have aided in many legal proceedings involving telecom intellectual property and technology. 
-- For RFP preparation, bid analysis, proposal evaluation--call us.  We have current experience in Federal network procurement processes.

"We Have the Experience."

-- Special thanks for supporting ViewsLetter to, your best source for communications tutorials and white papers.
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