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Software Defined Radio as a Solution to Interoperability & Connectivity Among New and Existing Public Safety Wireless Networks

Author: Brandon Malatest

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

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Emergency services must rely on fast, reliable, and flexible communication equipment to allow connectivity among all first responders in times of need. Today's first responders require new technologies to enable improved coordination and interoperability in all situations.

There have been many advancements in the communications equipment used by first responders, from one-way analog radios to high bandwidth digital radios. Although these advancements have helped significantly improve the capabilities of communication within each agency there is still a void in the ability for interoperability among first responders.

Many parts of the world are attempting to solve this issue through new radio systems with the most notable being the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in the United States and the Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) in Alberta, Canada.

FirstNet aims to address the issue through a public-private partnership with AT&T which enables public safety communications to use commercial standards (LTE) for both data and voice. There are two schools of thought on this approach where some see the benefits of a single network while others have expressed concerns related to relying on one single network for all of the data and voice for first responders as it may cause too large of a strain on the network and be a more enticing target to hackers and criminals. Each state within the US has the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of using the AT&T network, however, if the decision is to opt-out, that state will be required to build their own network which must be interoperable with the AT&T built network.

AFRRCS takes a different approach where a province wide open standard two-way radio network was created for use with a common radio. This network is open for public safety agencies to coordinate joint responses to emergencies while reducing the cost of radio system infrastructure. There are however drawbacks to this system as it is susceptible to dead zones in rural areas and there is a greater financial burden on the municipalities as they are required to purchase their own radios from a permitted radio list.

There is another kind of solution to the problem of interoperability that does not rely on single dedicated networks or devices. A significant amount of private and public funding is being devoted to development of software defined radio (SDR) technology in either the network infrastructure or in the radios connecting to new and/or existing networks. SDR offers complete flexibility with respect to operating frequency, bandwidth, modulation, and overall application utility. With an SDR users are afforded the capability to send and receive on multiple frequencies with adjustable bandwidth enabling the communication with existing and newly implemented networks/radios. The exact specifications of the recommended radio are dependent on the application but offers a flexible and cost effective solution to interoperability.

There is a new tool available ( that has standardized cost values across different kinds of customizations, allowing users to receive real-time cost estimates for using SDR based hardware for their radio needs.

Communication networks are crucial to first responders with interoperability becoming the next essential step to effectively saving lives. Although there is not yet one widely adopted approach for addressing this issue, there are multiple methodologies being deployed with SDR technologies likely being the evolution to address the issue.

Brandon Malatest is co-founder and COO of Per Vices Corporation, a Canadian company developing high performance software defined radio (SDR) platforms that are designed to meet and exceed requirements across multiple markets. For more information on Per Vices, see

Related Story:
Read Per Vices’s previous story from August 2016: Advanced Solutions to Enhance the Public Safety Platform: Crimson TNG SDR



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