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The transit police can’t ditch their old system because new $60m network doesn’t work reliably in tunnels: The Washington Post reports that the Metro Transit Police force cannot rely on the new radio system underground, despite the Motorola system being required to cover 95 percent of the area with 95 percent reliability of voices being understand. The old system has a single channel shared across the network; the new one has 255 channels. Officers must carry two radios for safety.
The Post quotes Motorola as stating they don’t have an ETA for the six-year-old system achieving the required level of availability. The current Metro chief sounds aggravated. It’s only part of the subway network that’s a real problem: four tunnel segments and seven underground stations. An officer was attacked in March and had just a radio from the new system. She was forced to track and arrest the attacker while trying futilely to get a signal—she eventually got one word to pass through the network, enough to get her location.
Radios have been installed 1,500 buses and 55 police cruisers where they apparently work just fine, as well as working as expected for two aboveground transit police units.
Motorola is testing a cable replacement which, if successful, might lead to them replacing 100 miles of antenna cable. Metro and Motorola haven’t agreed on which party would pay for any of this.
Welcome to the latest in the family of Wi-Fi Networking News site: Public safety emerged as a new and enormous category in the wireless communication and networking world on Sept. 11, 2001, as it became clear that decades-old devices used for emergency communications among fire, police, and first responders not only didn’t operate as it should but didn’t interoperate, either. And it wasn’t just that radios failed, but rather the complete loss of telecommunications infrastructure meant secondary, less-critical public safety and municipal communication was lost, too.
Thus the modern era of public safety wireless was born. Every significant company manufacturing wireless equipment for businesses has entered the public safety market if they didn’t already have a foot or an entire leg in the field. A relatively new swath of spectrum at 4.9 gigahertz (GHz) reserved for public safety wireless data has led in recent months to a flood of new equipment designed for that band and those purposes.
The Sprint Nextel merger didn’t just allow the two companies to merge holdings, but rather was predicated on a massive and expensive spectrum swap that will move Nextel’s scattered frequencies licenses to contiguous bands while providing the money and equipment to get public safety radios across the country on coordinated spectrum and new hardware.
A final trend: Metropolitan-scale wireless networks. While the public access components of these networks has been of highest visibility, the public safety part of the networks should be emphasized as well in those cities that are requiring that as part of the network buildout. Early adopters in San Mateo and Corpus Christi already saw the benefits of moving from a very old digital cellular standard (CDPD) to a modern, enormously faster specification. It’s likely to save money, time, and lives as more municipalities adopt either public safety-only or public/private networks that have a separate, dedicated component for first responders.
I look forward to hearing from people in the field about what works and what doesn’t. The scope of this blog will be all public safety wireless, with a focus on data, but not exclusive to it, and it’s increasingly difficult to separate out voice and data running over what are becoming entirely digital networks.