Traditionally, interoperable communications have been thought about solely in terms of first responders from different agencies being able to communicate with each other at a multijurisdictional event using land-mobile radios operating in disparate frequency bands. But Motorola officials — speaking at a press event at the company’s Schaumburg, Ill., headquarters this week — say that there’s much more to it, because of the data devices that many first responders now are carrying.

The company has on its drawing board a mission-critical Bluetooth solution that would allow the pairing of LMR handsets to data devices — such as its line of enterprise digital assistants that first responders use to issue e-citations and to scan driver’s license barcodes and fingerprints, among other uses.

The link would provide a crucial backup capability in the event that the cellular data network becomes unavailable, said Thomas Quirke, Motorola’s director of solutions marketing. For example, should the data network go down, a police officer still could scan fingerprints of a suspect using his data device but transmit the information over the agency’s LMR network.

Quirke said that the solution is more secure than commercial Bluetooth technology, because it uses near-field magnetic induction to link the devices. “They have to be very close to each other,” he said, which makes it exceedingly difficult for a hacker to intercept the transmission. Also, the data transferred between the devices is encrypted at a level that is “far higher” than is specified in the commercial Bluetooth standard, he added.

“The level of encryption in standard Bluetooth is insufficient for public safety. Our customers were unequivocal about that. They said, ‘Don’t even attempt to do [standard] Bluetooth,’” Quirke said.

Motorola designed its mission-critical Bluetooth solution so that it would be nearly foolproof for users. All one has to do to achieve pairing is hold each device within an inch of each other.

“One of the concerns our customers had was complexity — they didn’t want to have to key-in codes like you sometimes have to do with your cell phone. They just don’t have time for that,” Quirke said. “Plus, there’s always the chance that you’ll pair to the wrong device — that also was a worry. So, we designed this so that you have to be within an inch of the device and it will only pair to that device. It’s that simple.”

Quirke added that any data transfers that occur after the devices have been paired will happen in about 15 milliseconds, which will be imperceptible to the user.

“That’s very important,” he said. “One of the key things that our customers want is the ability to communicate instantaneously each and every time. So, you don’t want to add any additional delay in a mission-critical environment. Fifteen milliseconds is well within the established parameters. … The customer won’t know it’s happening.”

Motorola plans to first introduce a mission-critical Bluetooth headset that can be paired with the APX 7000 radio by the end of the year. Quirke said that the solution capable of pairing LMR radios and data devices would follow that introduction, but the timetable for that application is uncertain. When the solution does become available, existing APX 7000 radios will require the installation of a Bluetooth-enabled circuit board. Though each radio in an agency’s inventory will need to be physically altered, Motorola believes that this approach ultimately is more user-friendly than attaching a dongle to the radio’s accessory port, a company spokesman said.

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