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US starts emergency radio tests

Why have one network when one radio can use them all?

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The Department of Homeland Security has announced preliminary tests of a radio designed to use all the frequencies where first responders hang out, which might prove easier than getting them all to use one network.

In an attempt to unify the radio systems used by American emergency teams, the Department of Homeland Security has announced trials of a software-defined radio handset from Thales which is designed to operate on all the frequencies used by the emergency services, while not costing much more than an normal radio.

Liberty Radio handset

The handsets will get at least 30 days of use by 14 different organisations stretching from the 2010 Olympic security committee to Murray State University and the Texas National Guard - representing the breadth of uses to which the DHS expects the new radio to be put.

The full list is in the DHS release, which states the tests will take place later this year. The department will be hoping the tests go well, having paid Thales $6.2m to develop the radio which is called, in typical US style, the "Liberty".

Not that the name is entirely inappropriate given the capabilities of the handset, which got FCC certification in February. The hardware happily operates in the popular emergency-service bands (136-174 MHz, 380-520 MHz, and 763-869 MHz) as well as being able to support different radio systems thanks to managing the protocol in updatable software.

Claims that the handset is the same size as existing radios are rather optimistic, and there may be usability issues with a device of such flexibility, but the real problems are more likely to be procedural rather than technical - just 'cos a copper's radio can interface with a firefighter's radio doesn’t mean the firefighter is interested in what the copper has to say, or vice versa. Deciding who should talk when could well cost another six million. ®

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