LAS VEGAS--The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate demonstrated a Project 25 (P25) multi-band radio capable of supporting multiple public-safety frequency bands yesterday at the 2008 International Wireless Communications Expo.

Thales Communications was awarded a $6.275 million contract to develop the radio so federal, state and local first-responders could communicate across frequency bands during a natural or man-made disaster. According to Dr. David Boyd, director of the directorate’s Command, Control and Interoperability Division, the S&T wanted to collaborate with a vendor to develop a radio that could operate across the 10 critical frequency bands used by first-responder agencies. In addition, federal officials sought a technology that matched the current market price for hand-held radios but would perform like multiple radios, letting command-and-control operators use a single radio to communicate to another agency operating on a separate frequency.

The software-defined radio, dubbed the Thales Liberty, communicates with radios that operate in the 136-174 MHz, 360-400 MHz, 402-420 MHz, 450-512 MHz, 700 MHz and 800 MHz frequencies. It also is compatible with analog FM systems, Boyd said. By operating across frequencies, users will be able to talk to multiple agencies. Users simply turn a switch on the radio to the particular frequency and can send and receive messages from radios on any of the aforementioned federal, state or local channels, he said.
For large public events, police officers could carry a single radio instead of switching between hand-helds to talk to fire or EMS departments, said Jesse Cooper, the communications and information technology project manager for the Phoenix Police Department. His department was charged with protecting the city’s residents and football fans who converged on the city to attend Super Bowl XLII. During the event, fire and EMS teams operated on VHF radios, the state police used a UHF system and regional public-safety teams had 700 and 800 MHz radios on a shared system. Federal Bureau of Investigations and military teams further supported security in and around the stadium, he said.

“It was a challenge for us, where we had to use gateways and cache radios,” he said. “Fortunately it was very successful, but it wasn’t as easy as we would like it to be. We are excited to see if we can have a radio that would allow a command-and-control component to be able to communicate with all of those resources: the federal, the state, the local, the tribal and the military responders.”

Although the radio currently is being field tested by the DHS and public-safety agencies, Stephen Nicholas, Thales’ marketing communications manager, said he expects it to be available in 2009 with a cost of approximately $4000 to $6000 per device. All Thales products are metal-cased and submersible; however, the radio currently doesn’t meet full military specifications.

Pilot programs between the DHS, the company and willing public-safety agencies will determine the outcome of the final product, Nicholas said.

“There is no public-safety agency whom we’ve talked to that doesn’t want to pilot this in their backyard,” Boyd commented. “So we will define the pilots that really ring out the system. We want to put it in the toughest possible environment to demonstrate what it can do.”