Salt Lake City-based FreeLinc introduced at last month's National Sheriff's Association conference in Orlando the FreeMic 200 wireless speaker microphone for portable radios that leverages near-field magnetic communications technology.

To operate the speaker microphone, a user would clip an adapter to the portable radio. Once in place, the device's near-field magnetic communications technology creates a secure, 5-foot diameter personal area network around the user.

“If someone were to intercept the signal, they'd have to be sitting in the user's lap,” said John Lair, FreeLinc's vice president of marketing. Lair added that adapters are available for most professional-grade, two-way radios.

The security piece was an important driver in the development of the product, according to Lair. Originally, FreeLinc shopped the idea to OEMs with the idea of manufacturing it on a private-label basis. The prototype was based on Bluetooth, and after being told by the OEMs that a 2.4 GHz-based product wouldn't provide enough security to justify its use in mission-critical applications, FreeLinc decided to produce the speaker microphone itself using near-field magnetic communications, Lair said.

To further enhance security, as well as performance, FreeLinc has engineered the device to create a pairing sequence between the speaker microphone and adapter, to prevent interference from rogue signals. “If the adapter detects another radio device — even another FreeLinc device — it won't make the connection unless it has recognized the matching secure ID,” Lair said.

Because the speaker microphone is not tethered to the user, it could conceivably fall off in certain circumstances, such as when an officer is in foot pursuit of a suspect. Should the speaker microphone be lost, the officer simply flips a toggle switch on the adapter to operate the portable radio in conventional mode without needing to remove the adapter.

Losing the microphone is far better than losing the radio, said Cris Spiegel, communications officer for the Lamoille Fire Prevention District in north-central Illinois.

“With a tethered microphone, you're always catching it on something and end up tearing the radio off your body,” Spiegel said. “The microphone usually is screwed into the radio, and when it gets torn off your body, it can end up in a lot of dirty water, which isn't very good for the radio, which costs at least a thousand dollars apiece.”

Battery life is another plus. Because the device doesn't produce radio frequency waveforms, its lithium polymer rechargeable battery can provide up to 20 hours of continuous talk time, Lair said. “We were hoping it would last for a complete shift, and we've gone well beyond that,” he said. “There's no need for a power-saving device. When a radio boots back up, the first word or two can be lost. So [this device] never goes to sleep.”