Software-defined radio is one of the key tools that will deliver more efficient use of spectrum, and the time has come to put that tool to use. So said Jorge Pereira, scientific officer for the European Commission, at the opening of his keynote address during SDR ‘03 — the Software Defined Radio Forum's annual technical conference and product exposition.

“We need to continue to make use of the concepts of software-defined radio toward actual deployments,” Pereira told an audience of more than 300, who traveled to Orlando, Fla., in November to take part in the conference.

That theme was echoed in the public-safety panel session moderated by Harlin McEwen, honorary co-chair for SDR ‘03, former member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) executive committee, and current chairman of the IACP's communications and technology committee. Panelists included:

  • John Powell, of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council;

  • Christian Serra of Thales, France, and SDR Forum vice chair;

  • Fred Frantz of L-3 Communications, who represented the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-NorthEast, and;

  • Richard E. Shrum, president and CEO of The SP&T Group, and past chair of the SDR Forum's regulatory committee.

The speakers focused on public-safety applications requirements concerning reconfigurable radio technology. During the discussion, Powell defined interoperability as “having the ability to talk to who you need to talk to when you need to talk to them (both data and voice) in real time.” However, he also emphasized the “McEwen corollary,” which states that the requirement does not imply the ability to talk with everyone all of the time.

Powell also offered an update on Project MESA (mobility for emergency and safety applications), a joint North America-Europe initiative created by the standards organizations ETSI and TIA that now has participants from 23 countries worldwide.

Serra continued the international theme by describing WIDENS (wireless deployable network system), a European-funded cooperative research-and-development project that addresses future wireless communications requirements for public safety, emergency and disaster scenarios. WIDENS is expected to develop a prototype wireless ad-hoc communication system that features high data rates and is rapidly deployable and scalable.

Frantz underscored the interoperability issue by noting that state and local public-safety agencies represent a fragmented market, with more than 18,000 police departments and no single authority in charge of equipment specifications and acquisition. Moreover, the allocation of spectrum for radio operation results in fragmented bands of operation, Frantz said.

The resulting insufficient standardization prevents first responders from communicating at an officer-to-officer level. Frantz proposed a software-defined radio implementation that would enable public-safety radios to dynamically reconfigure and to transmit and receive on various frequency bands.

Shrum, a consultant to public-safety and telecom organizations, highlighted the regulation, allocation, and service rules that govern the use of radios, and he reviewed the findings of the FCC's spectrum policy task force.

Though there is much still to be done before software-defined radio deployments are widespread, a great deal of progress has been made in a relatively short time span, said SDR Forum Chair Stephen Blust of Cingular Wireless.

“Five years ago, we were talking about the potential benefits of SDR. Today, we're talking about products that are being demonstrated and delivered,” Blust said. “The challenge for the future will be to solve system and network issues related to SDR.”

Editor's Note: Allan Margulies is the chief operating officer of the Software Defined Radio Forum.