Raytheon JPS has agreed to distribute a solution engineered and manufactured by U.K.-based Etherstack that can convert an analog base station into a Project 25-compliant digital base station. The solution will be marketed in North America under the JPS brand, though Etherstack will continue to develop the solution.

The solution consists of an IP, SIP and RTP-based core network with open standards-based interfaces that runs on COTS hardware platforms (industrial Linux PC platforms and standard IP switches), said Etherstack CEO David Deacon in a statement.

“The primary point we are stressing is that the … solution is a soft upgrade path for existing network operators, as opposed to a hard/forklift upgrade proposed by other vendors,” Deacon said.

The solution controls up to four base stations per unit, supports single-site, dual-site, conventional and trunked systems, offers all P25 requirements—such as ruthless preemption—is self-calibrating and uses standard Ethernet cabling, said Kevin Swann, Etherstack’s business development director, during last week’s Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials conference in Orlando. “It’s ready to go right out of the box,” he said.

The solution fits the JPS’ engineering philosophy because it allows users to leverage their systems’ legacy RF back end, replacing only the analog front end, said Don Scott, vice president of business development. “We strive to let our customers keep what they have, and this fits into that philosophy,” he said. “You only replace what needs to be replaced.”

Though the solution costs $20,000 per unit, it is considerably less expensive than the cost of a P25 digital base station, which Scott estimated at $50,000. He added that the “price per channel goes down as you add base stations.”

However, Swann characterized Scott’s estimate for the cost of a P25 base station as conservative. “It could be dramatically more depending on the amount of software loaded onto it,” Swann said.

Scott anticipates that the P25 converter solution will be particularly attractive to cash-strapped public-safety agencies that can’t afford a forklift transition to P25. “Grants aren’t always available, and that’s a problem,” he said. “Some agencies have had to hold bake sales to fund system improvements.”

JPS currently is taking orders for the solution, and deliveries are scheduled to begin in October. Future plans call for an inter-RF subsystem interface (ISSI)-based version to be released in early 2007, with existing solutions software-upgradable to the ISSI version, according to Deacon.