It’s time to get back to basics
In our rush to explore and exploit new technology for competitive advantage, let’s not forget where we came from, nor the fundamentals we learned along the way.
Before and since our company (as Regency Electronics) entered in 1947 what was then a fledgling industry, land mobile radio, or LMR, has served a practical purpose for a wide and now expanding range of users. LMR is at work in commercial, industrial, campus, transportation, public safety, military and homeland security applications. To many on this growing list, portable and mobile radios are essential tools.
But now, as one of the last of the analog technologies to go digital, LMR is finally having its very own high-tech heyday, heralding great potential and promise for various new innovations and product capabilities. And, just like the e-commerce boom more than a decade ago, many of these innovations will be touted and promoted as revolutionary advances and triumphs of technology, tempting the prospective buyer to spend more money.
Adding new options to new products can increase the perceived value of those products…and boost the price tag (and profit) as well. That’s business as usual.
Still, it is questionable whether many will prove to be vital necessities versus bells and whistles. Meanwhile, the basics may be taken for granted or even ignored.
Are some vendors losing sight of what should be the driving force in our business — radio users? What are the basics, from the users’ perspective? What radio functions do they need most?
We always use public safety as our showcase example, and, like you, we are hearing complaints from the field about certain new digital radios — even those compliant with APCO Project 25 specs — that make us wonder where practical priorities got lost.
For example, one complaint we heard was from a user with a brand new P25 radio who said that, in order to make a unit-to-unit call, he had to make 28 keystrokes on the radio’s keypad. Responders in critical emergency situations are expected to figure that out on the scene?
No. We should go back to Rule No. 1, written long ago, still true today: KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. Especially in an emergency, ease of use is critical — and 28 keystrokes in an instrument obviously cluttered with way too many complications doesn’t meet the criteria. Push to talk, release to listen.
Audio quality needs to be loud and clear, especially in emergency situations. Yet we heard from one user that, despite being provided with several new P25 digital radios from one manufacturer, the audio quality was so lousy that he didn’t even bother unpacking the rest of the samples.
Handsets must be tough, rugged and built to survive extreme conditions — especially for radios used in public safety, military and homeland security operations. In most cases, however, we think the LMR industry pays attention to this fundamental factor. We’re tough!
Another demand is longer battery life. We hear about this because our LMRs are used by wildland firefighters who sometimes never know when their shift will be over. They don’t want to worry about their radio going dead. We think a digital P25 portable radio should be capable of working double shifts without rest, or 16-plus hours. Yet some provide less than eight hours of service — a sign of too much power drain.
And what about costs getting out of hand — $2500-$3500 (or more) per P25 digital radio? Thanks to APCO Project 25, competition has returned to the LMR marketplace, and viable alternatives are available.
Is every new option worth the added cost? VoIP, yes. Internet casino gambling? Probably not.
David P. Storey is president and chief executive officer of RELM Wireless Corp., a manufacturer and marketer of mobile radio equipment for public-safety and government agencies, as well as business-band radios serving a wide range of commercial applications, for more than 55 years.