Will Cell Phones Eventually Replace Your Handheld Radio?

Wireless communication technology carries tremendous promise for law enforcement.

Earlier this year at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE), I staffed a demonstration for my employer Raytheon, but most of the equipment at our booth was from other manufacturers. Visitors to our booth were able to talk to each other using several different brands of radios connected by Raytheon’s P25net. 

This demonstration showed two separate P25 systems—the current standard for public safety radios—operating with handheld radios from different popular radio manufacturers, including the new Harris multi-band radio. We attached legacy analog radio systems not using P25 standards to the Raytheon P25net and the EADS CoreP25 systems on UHF and VHF frequencies respectively. In the end, different brands of radios connected customers in seamless communication.

How does this affect cops on the beat? With such systems-integration technology, handsets already in use can work together to provide real interoperability to law enforcement agencies around the nation.

Departments will be able to better equip officers in the field because they now have more freedom to upgrade to the most up-to-date radio, data and video systems regardless of who made it. In the past, departments had to commit to certain radio brands for 20 to 30 years-limited to the same manufacturer’s new models because different brands could not connect with each other.

As systems integration shifts competition among handset manufacturers, we can also expect to see handset capabilities expand. Cell phones run circles around a police radio for about 5 percent of the cost.

This is because the consumer cell-phone market has far more competition than the market for police radios. But that changes when departments using open-standard networks can use any type of handset, making their business available to anyone who wants to compete for it. This will eventually give cops radios that will continue to do more and cost less.

I only wish I’d had the opportunity to offer my officers such a choice of equipment during my career with LAPD. In my new role, I’m fighting to bring the benefits of open competition to my brothers in arms.

Editor’s note: This article initially ran in POLICE Magazine, a sister publication of Campus Safety.

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