When multiband radios first were demonstrated, many noted the advantage that such devices would provide in large-scale emergencies — when first responders from multiple jurisdictions that normally operate on disparate frequencies bands descend upon a given location to provide help. With a little coordination, the multiband radios can allow interoperable communications.

But the benefits of multiband functionality are not just limited to these incident-specific scenarios, according to Steve Devine, interoperability program manager for the Missouri Department of Public Safety. In fact, the state of Missouri is in the early stages of deploying a statewide, mobile P25 VHF trunking system and using multiband radios is an important part of the plan, he said.

Like many state, Missouri has a “classic urban-rural dichotomy,” with the bulk of the state’s population being in the metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis, which the rest of the citizenry is dispersed across an expansive geographic region, Devine said. As a result, using the propagation characteristics of VHF makes sense for the state.

However, as is the case in many urban areas, 700/800 MHz systems are more efficient for the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas, which also have to be served by state personnel.

With this in mind, the state is buying multiband mobile radios that are designed to roam on 700/800 MHz networks in the future, when necessary.

“When we’re talking about multiband, it’s not just that incident commander with a bunch of people running at him in VHF, UHF and 800,” Devine said. “It’s another application of multiband is to be able to roam between trunked networks — specifically, VHF in rural areas and 800 MHz in urban areas.”

These capabilities are not in use yet. The first sites of the statewide system are scheduled to be deployed next month, and coordination with the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas has not been finalized yet, Devine said. However, with multiband radios, interoperability challenges should be focused more on governance and coordination, not technical and financial challenges.

“Now that these [multiband] radios are out there, we may be the first ones who can actually take that kind of a multiband approach in our architecture when we design it, as compared to somebody who has those abilities after they’ve designed an 800 MHz statewide system, for example,” Devine said.

Indeed, the presence of multiband radios in the market has provided public-safety communications officials with much more flexibility than they’ve had in the past to address both short-term interoperability issues and long-term migration issues. Like most technologies, multiband radios are not a panacea, but they are becoming a valuable item in the public-safety communications toolbox.

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