Some radio vendors at the recent IWCE in Las Vegas have plans to manufacture new radios with outdated features that will qualify as replacement radios under the terms of the FCC's 800 MHz rebanding order.

Many licensees with older radios in their systems are concerned about what radios they will receive as replacements if their current radios cannot be retuned and reprogrammed properly. Nextel Communications officials have suggested that they have a warehouse of old radios that can serve as replacements. The FCC order only guarantees that licensees will receive “comparable facilities” and noted that Nextel is not obligated to pay for upgrades.

“We are preparing to manufacture equipment with reduced feature sets from our current product line to meet the comparable-facilities standard,” said Chuck Jackson, vice president and director of systems operations for Motorola, during a panel session.

The Motorola radios will be called Rebanding Mobile Model 1, Rebanding Mobile Model 3, Rebanding Portable Model 1 and Rebanding Portable Model 3 — straightforward names created by Jackson.

An EFJohnson representative said his company also plans to create a radio line with reduced features to serve as replacements in the rebanding process. A M/A-COM representative said his company would attempt to satisfy the comparable-facilities standard with its existing product line.

Whether the Transition Administrator team will approve money for what many attendees called “dumbed down” radios as replacements remains to be seen. Jackson acknowledged the possibility that the TA will balk but said Motorola wanted to make a replacement radio line available to licensees.

“That's up to negotiations,” Jackson said. “I don't think [Nextel] has the number of radios that will fit the need.”

Other items of note from IWCE included the following:

FreeLinc debuted wireless accessory products that leverage magnetic-induction technology to let two-way radio users communicate hands-free without introducing security risks, according to company officials.

Wireless headsets and microphones that incorporate radio frequency-based solutions have been available for years, but first-responder organizations such as the Drug Enforcement Agency have avoided them because their transmissions can be intercepted relatively easily, FreeLinc CEO Tony Sutera said. In contrast, magnetic wavelengths are inherently secure, in part because they do not emit transmissions outside a “bubble” that extends no further than 3 feet from the user. In addition, Free-Linc employs rolling encryption of the signals.

Other benefits of magnetic induction — a technology harnessed by FreeLinc partner Aura Communications — include 7 to 10 times greater power efficiency than Bluetooth technology. As a result, the FreeLinc adapter attached to a two-way radio is powered by the radio.

“And we can do it all for the same price as an RF device,” Sutera said.

FreeLinc's FreeMotion 200 is a lightweight earpiece that contains a speaker and a boom microphone, while featuring push-to-talk and voice-operated transmission capability. The product will be generally available in July, said Thomas Smith, FreeLinc's senior vice president of operations.

In the fall, FreeLinc plans to offer the FreeMic 200, a wireless lapel speaker microphone, and the Free-Range 200, a dual earmuff headset.

Few companies like to have their equipment thrown around, but Tait Electronics was more than happy to play a video of its Orca portable radios being drop tested, and the company even tossed one of the demo units down the aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center a few times. “Our sales guys sometimes get a little upset when we do this at shows,” said Jan Noordhof, Tait's product manager for digital infrastructure. “But the show floor and aisles are covered with carpet, not bare concrete, so it's not so bad.”

Noordhof is the featured actor in the company's test videos, first demonstrating an ANSI-standardized drop test of an Orca handset from 6 feet onto a hard surface, with the radio still functioning after the fall. That's followed by a non-standard test of a drop from 8 feet onto a flat concrete surface with the radio still operational.

Transcrypt plans to transition to the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) in its high-end DarkStar family of voice encryption modules. Currently, Transcrypt offers the Data Encryption Standard (DES) as its highest-level voice encryption technique. “[The DES product has] always been our flagship product,” said Lori Kowal, Transcrypt's director of engineering.

Nevertheless, moving to the more sophisticated AES encryption scheme is a logical progression. “We've got the [digital signal processor] in place, so all we need to do is develop the code,” Kowal said. AES is the designated successor to DES and approved as a federal standard in 2002. The DES standard was formalized in 1977 and was considered secure until the late 1990s, when developments in hardware, software and cryptography enabled DES-encrypted messages to be decoded in a matter of hours.

Motorola plans to add an infrared digital camera to its Mobile Video Enforcer system in August 2005 that will be mounted on the outside of the vehicle and which will focus strictly on vehicle license plates.

The system — which includes an in-vehicle digital video recorder and digital camera, as well as a video management system that resides within the department — currently offers 24-hour recording, a 60 GB storage capacity that enables 24-hour recording and MPEG2 compression, “the highest available,” according to Steve Lisiewicz, a Motorola product manager.

The new infrared camera will continuously shoot license plates that come into its view and then wirelessly send queries back to a state database to determine whether any warrants exist for that vehicle. Officers will be alerted in the event of a hit. The camera will be able to capture license plates even when the vehicles are moving at speeds up to about 100 miles per hour, which will aid officers in high-speed chases, Lisiewicz said.

Motorola expects to introduce the ability to upload video footage to the video management system located at the department via a 4.9 GHz mesh network by the end of the first quarter 2006.

SandCherry introduced the Voice 4 Radio Message System, which enables users to send and retrieve voice messages from their two-way radios without the aid of a dispatcher. They also can retrieve text messages via a Web-based interface using a text-to-voice software application. The unit plugs into a mobile radio or base station and supports both conventional and trunked systems.

“The opportunity was there to improve the process at just about any enterprise where users are utilizing dispatcher time and [encountering] potential quality issues related to sending and receiving messages,” said Dale Hartzell, SandCherry's vice president and general manager. “What we're trying to do is emulate voice mail on a two-way radio system. This solution provides self-service to the user to send and receive messages, and they also get the assurance that the message is correct and transmitted appropriately.”

Hartzell added that radio-based voice mail solutions currently exist but that SandCherry's solution is different because it is centralized. “Radios don't have to be reprogrammed,” he said. “The server that does the voice mail capability is connected to the radio network and looks like another user on the network, so anybody can have access to it.”

Doug Mohney and Glenn Bischoff contributed to this report.