The National Institute of Justice, the research-and-development wing of the Department of Justice, this week issued a call for papers on emerging technology solutions for public-safety interoperable communications.

Specifically, the NIJ is seeking information on portable multi-band conventional radios; mobile radios that support both voice and broadband data applications; satellite and ultrawideband technologies; cognitive and software-defined radio; low-power systems; location-based systems, voice-over-IP technologies; and wireless broadband systems.

The portable multi-band radios, which would operate in the VHF, UHF and 800 MHz bands and use the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials Project 25 common air interface, would be especially attractive to first responders, said Steve Rauter, deputy chief of the Lisle-Woodridge (Ill.) Fire Protection District.

“Let’s say we have the super-duty handheld portable radios that could tune all of the interoperability channels,” he said. “I could have gone to Louisiana and put in the channels that are supposed to be common interoperability channels for everybody, and I could talk to whoever I needed to talk to.”

The technology already exists to develop such a radio, Rauter said.

“State-of-the-art microprocessors literally can switch in and out … different types of circuitry by way of microprocessor control,” he said. “As an example, they already are doing this in scanners. In a scanner, each channel you land on will switch in and out of various RF circuitry. … The technology is there. It has to be ruggedized and some things will have to be done regarding [intermodulation] and spurious emissions, but it can be done.”

Rauter said that while such radios already are being used by the military, vendors have been reluctant to adapt the technology for the public-safety sector because they don’t believe there is enough demand to justify the heavy R&D costs.

Even if they did, the procurement cost for such a radio might be more than a public-safety agency could bear, said Charles Werner, chief of the Charlottesville (Va.) Fire Department.

“If you have a Motorola P25 digital portable, you’re talking $4000. So if you have something that’s capable of performing at that level, as well as every other level, you could be talking about $5000 to $6000 just starting off,” he said. “They only way you may be able to offset those costs is through volume purchases where you work out a deal.’

Werner added that adoption of long-term migration plans and help from the federal government in the form of subsidies would lessen the impact of such hefty price tags.