Technology Elevates Handheld Radios To New Performance Levels

Paterson firefighter, working from the platform of Paterson Ladder 1, a 95-foot mid-mount 2005 E-ONE HP, knocks down a chimney
A Paterson (N.J.) firefighter, working from the platform of Paterson Ladder 1, a 95-foot mid-mount 2005 E-ONE HP, knocks down a chimney as fire bursts through the roof of a vacant two-and-a-half story house. Two firefighters were transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. (Fire Apparatus Photo by Michael J. Coppola)
A display screen on the Harris Unity XG-100 radio.
A display screen on the Harris Unity XG-100 radio.

The Thales Liberty Multiband LMR portable radio.

The Thales Liberty Multiband LMR portable radio.

Operational efficiency and firefighter safety are two major considerations when it comes to handheld portable radios.

In response to those issues, manufacturers have made their radios easier to use while wearing fire gear and have improved their clarity while controlling background noise. New radios are also better able to take a beating without affecting performance.

Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications introduced the Unity radio 4-band multimode portable that enhances operability across the VHF, UHF, 700 megahertz and 800 megahertz spectrums in a single radio.

“A continuing problem in the fire service shows up in mutual-aid calls where the ability to talk to a mutual-aid company on a different band doesn’t exist without reverting to a system of using multiple radios,” said Dirk Young, manager of Harris’s national public safety markets. “The Unity radio solves that problem [with its multiband capability].”

The Unity XG-100 has noise-suppression technology that delivers clear voice quality, he said, even with sirens blaring or fire engines running in the background. Noise suppression is achieved through advanced signal processing for both analog and digital communications.

In addition, the Unity portable includes global positioning system (GPS)-enabled situational awareness, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and digital vocoder software, which converts spoken words into data packets and turns packets back into words. The radio is built to military standards for ruggedness and immersibility.

Young noted all Unity portable and mobile radios support both digital APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials) P25 secure communications and analog FM communications. They are designed to be intrinsically safe and have software that can be adapted to changes in radio standards.

P25 refers to Project 25, an ongoing effort to establish standards for public safety digital radio communications. P25 technology is being deployed in phases. Current abilities include backward compatibility and interoperability across different types of systems.

Motorola has a new P25 radio that’s designed for the extreme conditions firefighters face – the APX 7000XE. Besides its ability to take punishment, the new portable has an expanded T-shaped top; a larger and more visible display; bigger control knobs; and greatly enhanced noise-reduction capabilities.

Bruce Claxton, director of innovation design for Motorola, called the APX 7000XE “a very grippable and very gloveable solution for firefighters. It has a very large push-to-talk surface that is attuned for a gloved hand, as are the channel and volume knobs.”

The radio was designed with input from firefighters at several departments to make it responsive to their needs. The audio performance of the portable was increased, making it 50 percent louder than the previous model. Noise-suppression capabilities were added to mask out fireground sounds, PASS alarms, sirens and other radios.

The APX 7000XE has real-time data capabilities, secure end-to-end encrypted communications, an AMBE (Advanced Multi-Band Excitation) digital voice vocoder, and audio profiles for different environments. The portable is enabled for interoperable communications with multiple frequency bands, Motorola legacy systems, and P25 Phase 1 and 2 systems.

Motorola says the APX 7000XE is the smallest P25 Phase 2 and multiband portable radio in the industry, meeting or exceeding stringent military MIL-STD specifications.

Stephen Nichols, director of business development for Thales Communications Inc. of Clarksburg, Md., said his firm’s Liberty Multiband LMR portable radio gives full coverage to public safety bands, from VHF and UHF through 700 and 800 MHz.

“Right now, a chief might have to carry three radios to be able to talk to all the different agencies responding to a call,” Nichols said. “With the Liberty Multiband, he only needs one radio to accomplish the same task.”

He said Thales made the first such radios for the U.S. Department of Defense, and “we have honed the software technology so that it adheres to a P25 standard.”

The portable features a more intuitive large front panel display that is similar to that found on cellular phones. Nichols said it is rugged and immersible, and has loud audio features so voice can be heard over engine and fireground noise.

Tait Radio Communications also offers portable radios that conform to P25 statewide digital radio network requirements, having been certified in jurisdictions in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and Wyoming.

Tait is a New Zealand company that manufactures portable and mobile P25 digital trunked and conventional radio solutions.

The company’s TP9100 portable gives firefighters the flexibility of working in digital, analog and auto-sensing dual modes, according to Tim Lamb, Tait’s marketing communications spokesman. “In addition,” he said, “the radios have excellent audio quality and coverage.”

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