A wrap-up of news from this year’s conference in Kansas City:

Daniels Electronics unveiled plug-in 800 MHz modules for the company’s analog and Project 25 products and a P25 encrypted repeater that measures less than a cubic foot, provides three hours of continuous use and operates on D-cell batteries.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) approached the company seeking a repeater it could use for covert operations, said Gerry Wight, the company’s director of marketing. “The ATF runs a lot of undercover operations where agents use low-power body wire radios,” Wight said. “They needed encryption, so the bad guys couldn’t listen in.”

The repeater also had to be easy to use. “D-cells are about as simple as it gets,” Wight said, adding that the small form factor makes the repeater difficult to see. “The ATF wanted something it could toss next to a garbage can at the end of an alley, because that’s about as far as a body wire radio transmits.”

Midland Radio introduced a P25 VHF desktop control station that will be available in about 60 days, said Scott Henderson, vice president of land mobile radio sales. It has a 90 W power rating (45 W continuous operation), offers DES/AES encryption and is targeted to federal agencies and the public-safety sector.

A low-power UHF version will be available in about 90 days, Henderson said, adding that he expects the market for P25 desktop control stations to be strong. “Ninety percent of the systems out there are analog, and they’re going to convert to P25,” he said.

Henderson predicted that the conversions would begin to accelerate during the next 2-3 years, as prices for digital equipment “drop dramatically,” driven by economies of scale and manufacturing efficiencies. “It’s going to resemble what happened with cell phones,” he said.

Thales announced it added a color display screen to its Liberty multiband radio, which will be available for purchase through the U.S. General Services Administration program beginning in Spring 2009. The screen lets programmers color-code the channels of various agencies in a region, so first responders in the field “know who they’re talking to,” said Stephen Nichols, director of business development for the company’s DHS/Public Safety unit.

In addition, a color bar at the top of the screen lets users know they’ve grabbed the correct radio. “Each user group gets a slightly different programming configuration. The chief has different channels than firefighters or the hazmat team,” Nichols said. “Color-coding the bar will help users pick up their radio and not the chief’s, which was in the charger right next to theirs.”

The company also introduced an easier navigation interface. “The last thing the world needs is another custom way to program some technical product,” Nichols said. “So, we tried to emulate the approach taken by the cell-phone manufacturers and made our interface intuitive.”

Demonstration versions of the Liberty will be available in Q4. Go to www.thalesliberty.com for more information.

ICOM America showcased what it is describing as the smallest Project 25 trunking repeatear on the market. It combines two 50 W repeaters in a 2-rack-unit-tall configuration. “We all know that rack space is at a premium today,” said Richard Varbero, Jr., of the company’s Land Mobile Systems Group.

The company also unveiled the IC-F9011 series of conventional and trunked portable radios. The official launch of the line will occur Oct. 1. A UHF version will be launched in February, according to ICOM Vice President Chris Lougee, who described the radios as “grant-friendly,” because they were designed to meet SAFECOM’s statement of requirements for grant funding. Three models are available in the VHF series: full keypad with LCD display; simple keypad with LCD display; and no keypad/no display.

Tait Radio Communications has qualified for the U.S. General Services Administration program. “We’re very excited about this. It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Paul Middleton, the company’s vice president of marketing, who added that the company already is selling radios to federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol.

Middleton predicted that the GSA designation would make it easier to sell to state and local agencies as well. “Many state and local agencies buy under GSA, because they can get products at a guaranteed price,” he said.

Tait had to jump through a significant hoop to get the designation, Middleton said. The company’s parent is headquartered in New Zealand, which hasn’t signed certain nuclear treaties with the U.S., making the company ineligible for GSA designation. To get around this, the company is now assembling two portables, one mobile and one base station at its Houston facility to make it GSA eligible. The first assembly run is scheduled for next week, Middleton said.

In addition, Tait debuted a 40 W portable base station (capable of VHF/UHF and 700/800 MHz operation) enclosed in a rugged pelican case. The base station is designed for use in search and rescue operations, remote areas and rural environments—“anywhere coverage is spotty,” Middleton said.