Communications, Petrillo, Technology

New Developments in Portable Radio Communications

Issue 10 and Volume 22.

By Alan M. Petrillo

The portable radio is the lifeline link between each firefighter and team members as well as incident command. New developments in handheld portable radios and how those radios are integrated with other fireground equipment are giving firefighters more efficient, safer communications on fire scenes.

Multiband Capability

Mark Krizik, sales specialist for Motorola Solutions Inc., says Motorola’s APX is the company’s latest P25 portable radio line of products for the fire service. “APX 8000XE is our latest portable, which now includes all frequency bands that public safety in the United States uses: VHF, UHF, 700 megahertz (MHz), and 800-MHz radio bands,” Krizik points out. “A lot of fire departments have automatic mutual-aid agreements with neighboring departments and often have to respond where one department is on a 700- or 800-MHz trunk system and another is on a VHF frequency band. Firefighters can use the APX 8000XE channel selector to switch between them.” Motorola also makes the APX 7000 dual-band portable radio as well as the APX 6000 single-band radio.

1 Motorola Solutions Inc. makes the APX 8000XE portable radio that includes all frequency bands used by public safety agencies in the United States. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Motorola Solutions Inc.)
1 Motorola Solutions Inc. makes the APX 8000XE portable radio that includes all frequency bands used by public safety agencies in the United States. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Motorola Solutions Inc.)

Dave Brandkamp, national sales manager for JVCKENWOOD, says his company makes a variety of portable radios used by the fire service, including a product that is capable of the three most popular digital protocols used in the United States: P25, NXDN, and DMR. “Many factors, such as interagency required feature sets and funding, determine the model that is best suited to a particular agency,” Brandkamp says. “Our NX-5000 series portable offers user trimode multiprotocol capability in a single-band configuration. Our Viking series of P25 (including SmartNet/SmartZone) portables offers multi and single-band operation, as well as perpetual licensing of application software, such as P25 trunking both phase 1 and 2.”

Pam Cowan, senior communications manager for Harris Corporation, says the two most popular Harris portables used by fire departments are the multiband XL-200P and the XG-75P. “Our XL-200P was the first solution to integrate LMR push-to-talk (PTT) and broadband PTT functionality in the same portable radio unit,” Cowan says. Both the XL-200P and the XG-75P usually are used with Harris’s immersion and high-visibility options, she adds.

Bluetooth Communication

Motorola’s APX series has Bluetooth as standard on its portables, allowing Bluetooth mics and speakers on self-contained breathing apparatus face pieces to pick up clearer audio transmissions, Krizik says. Also, APX radios can be outfitted with a person-down option, so if a firefighter goes horizontal and doesn’t move for 30 seconds, the radio alerts. “A new feature in the APX 8000XE is the emergency ‘find me’ feature,” Krizik says. “Using Bluetooth technology, if a firefighter activates the orange emergency button or if the person-down option activates, other firefighter radios in range of 100 to 200 feet will pick up the emergency signal.”

2 Motorola’s APX-8000 can be paired with the XE500-RSM remote speaker microphone
2 Motorola’s APX-8000 can be paired with the XE500-RSM remote speaker microphone.

Brandkamp notes that JVCKENWOOD’s newest models, such as the NX-5000, VP-5000, and VP-6000, offer Bluetooth capability. Also, the company offers an indoor tracking system where a facility would be equipped with beaconing hardware that interfaces with the radio’s Bluetooth capability.

Cowan points out that Bluetooth compatibility is standard on all Harris XL portable radios, supporting the latest Bluetooth 4.0 low-energy standard and operating with commercially available accessories that support the standard. In addition, she says, Harris XL radios support accountability messaging, even when analog talk-around is used at a fire scene.

Rugged Design

Paul Wardner, business development manager for public safety at Icom America, says Icom’s F9000 has a larger physical form factor with large knobs and a good separation between knobs because it is meant for gloved use. The F9000 has 512 channels and supports two-tone paging, making the device a pager as well as a two-way radio.

Motorola offers an extreme-environment package where the portables have exaggerated sized knobs for volume control, channel selector, push to talk (PTT), and the emergency button. “The knobs and buttons are larger for use with a gloved hand, and the lime green color is designed to be used in a dark environment,” Krizik says. “We call the color Impact Green, and it’s been shown to be the color that the human eye can pick out best in a dim, low-light environment.”

3 Icom America makes the F9000 series portable radio with a 6-W VHF output, an AMBE +2 vocoder, and a monochromatic screen. (Photos 3 and 4 courtesy of Icom America.) 4 The F7000 series is Icom America’s latest P25 digital radio, built with a smaller form factor than the F9000 series but with all the same features and a greater channel capacity.
3 Icom America makes the F9000 series portable radio with a 6-W VHF output, an AMBE +2 vocoder, and a monochromatic screen. (Photos 3 and 4 courtesy of Icom America.) 4 The F7000 series is Icom America’s latest P25 digital radio, built with a smaller form factor than the F9000 series but with all the same features and a greater channel capacity.

“These high-tier, ruggedly durable mechanical radios have excellent water seals, making them well suited for the fire service,” Cowan notes. “Both are designed with a simplified user interface for those wearing fire protective clothing and boast loud and crisp audio. Free single-key AES and DES encryption keeps communications free from the casual scanner.”

Harris is working to attain Class 1 Division 1 Intrinsic Safety certification on the XL-200P, Cowan says. “With Harris advanced military technology, we will be first in market to offer this certification for multiband portables,” she points out. “Unique in this market, the XL-200P meets MIL-STD 810 specifications, including MILSTD 504.1 Contamination by Fluids and MIL STD 511.4 Explosive Atmospheres.”

5 JVCKenwood makes the NX5000 series portable radio that offers trimode, multiprotocol capability in a single-band configuration. (Photos 5 and 6 courtesy of JVCKenwood.)
5 JVCKENWOOD makes the NX5000 series portable radio that offers trimode, multiprotocol capability in a single-band configuration. (Photos 5 and 6 courtesy of JVCKENWOOD.)

Brandkamp adds that from a physical standpoint, the company’s most recent portable, the VP-6000, was ergonomically designed for firefighter use in real-world situations. All JVCKENWOOD products go through rigorous testing to meet military standards, he says, and the NX-5000, VP-5000, and VP-6000 also are IP67 rated for submergibility. “For hazardous environments, we offer intrinsically safe ratings as well,” he says.

Additional Radio Options

Wardner says his company makes two model series of P25 digital radios for the fire service, the F9000 series and the newly released F7000 series. The F9000 has been on the market for about eight years, Wardner notes, and has a VHF output of six watts, an AMBE +2 vocoder device inside the digital platform that enhances speech and helps eliminate background noise, and a monochromatic screen.

The F7000 P25 portable radio has all of the F9000’s features except it is five watts instead of six. The F7000 also vibrates so it can be felt through thick clothing and has a smaller form factor, being only 2.1 inches wide, 4.9 inches high, and 1.5 inches deep.

6 The VP5000 series made by JVCKenwood, like all its other series, is rated for submergibility and has Bluetooth capability
6 The VP5000 series made by JVCKENWOOD, like all its other series, is rated for submergibility and has Bluetooth capability.

The F7000 has P25 radio page, radio check, and radio monitor functions, which allow a user to determine if a target radio is in range or on the air, as well as the ability to make it transmit back to the sender via a live microphone. Channel capacity of the F7000 is up to 1,025 channels, using conventional P25, Phase 1 and Phase 2 trunking. The device has an IP 68 waterproof rating, which means it can be under water at one meter for one hour and still operate. It supports two priority levels of scanning and can be configured in the field if necessary using over-the-air programming.

Another APX option is APX personnel accountability, Krizik notes. “It’s a built-in signaling capability to be the firefighter’s accountability tag,” he says. “When switched to a tactical talk group on a fire scene, the incident commander launches an accountability app and the firefighter names and ride positions come up on his screen.”

7 Harris Corporation makes the multiband XL200P portable radio that integrates PTT and Broadband PPP functionality in the same radio unit. (Photos 7 and 8 courtesy of Harris Corporation.) 8 The XG-75 portable radio series made by Harris Corporation has advanced water seals and a simplified user interface for firefighters in turnout gear.
7 Harris Corporation makes the multiband XL200P portable radio that integrates PTT and Broadband PPP functionality in the same radio unit. (Photos 7 and 8 courtesy of Harris Corporation.) 8 The XG-75 portable radio series made by Harris Corporation has advanced water seals and a simplified user interface for firefighters in turnout gear.

JVCKENWOOD radios can have a unique alpha numeric identifier that is transmitted when the user depresses the PTT button. “While not tied specifically to a location,” Brandkamp says, “this does allow dispatch and on scene commanders to easily identify who is transmitting.”

Sound Clarity and Connectivity

Motorola also makes the XE500 RSM remote speaker microphone. “The speaker, mic and cord are rated to withstand 500 degrees for five minutes,” Krizik says. The XE500 RSM also has improved audio characteristics for mic input, he notes, distinguishing between dynamic speaker input and filtering out ambient noise, like wind and fireground sounds.

Cowan says the 1.5-W/4.0-W audio of the XL-200P comes standard with active noise cancellation, and with LTE connectivity on the portable, a firefighter can stream video from thermal imaging cameras, biometric information, air levels, and other real-time information, providing commanders with a better view and increased safety information.

Brandkamp points out that JVCKENWOOD prides itself on the audio clarity of its products, from superior noise cancelling to robust, reliable audio.

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.