Access to secure and reliable communications such as Modern Land Mobile Radio, secure wireless networks, and P25 digital radios are vital to the voice and data needs of 1st responders, emergency management teams, and local public officials to adequately serve citizens, especially when natural disasters, power grid failures, and potential terrorist attacks may occur.
In public safety their needs often change as the technology infrastructure is constantly evolving. The limitations that are inherent in the land mobile radio simply render it ineffective when it comes time to meet the needs of the public safety sector. In fact, so much has changed that the needs of first responders cannot begin to be met by the technologies that are in place.
Current Issues with P25 Digital Radios Project
The APCO P25 project is a suite of standards for digital radio communications for use by federal, state/province and local public safety agencies in North America to enable them to communicate with other agencies and mutual aid response teams in emergencies. In this regard, P25 digital radios fill the same role as the European Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) protocol, although not interoperable with it.
Many issues under P25 digital radios neither have not been met nor need solid investments in R&D and D&D to further develop the infrastructure hardware, hardware, software, bandwidth, and security required for optimal performance. While P25 is the vehicle of choice for sending the narrow band voice communication, it fails to offer what is necessary to send mission critical information such as helmet cam video or biometrics that are in place to protect the lives of police or other first responders.
Video and biometrics are certainly required in some first responder events but the voice technology that cannot be sent over LTE is also necessary. Real time data and imagery needs to be passed to the right people and responses to it given.
The land mobile radio technologies are simply not good enough to meet the needs that we have today, let alone those that are evolving as new situations and events take place. LTE simply cannot replace all narrowband networks and it won’t always be available.
P25 digital radios don’t use spread spectrum; as such it is vulnerable to cyber-attacks and jamming.
In addition, meta data fields are not encrypted, allowing a hacker to perform traffic analysis to identify users (as P25 digital radios do respond to bad data packets addressed to them with a re-transmission request a hacker can deliberately send bad packets forcing a specific radio to transmit even if the user is attempting to maintain radio silence. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011, “researchers from UPenn overheard conversations that included descriptions of undercover agents and confidential informants, plans for forthcoming arrests and information on the technology used in surveillance operations.
The researchers found that the messages sent over the radios are sent in segments, and blocking just a portion of these segments can result in the entire message being jammed. The authors concluded by saying It is reasonable to wonder why this protocol, which was developed over many years and is used for sensitive and critical applications, is so difficult to use and so vulnerable to attack.”
Bridging P25 Digital Radios to LTE Interoperability
Some solutions currently being proposed to these dilemma include the Etherstack LTE25 Softswitch solution and the LTE Android Client which can provide secure voice and data services over the LTE network and are still able to bridge the APCO P25 digital radios network, the LMR and PMR (private mobile radios). This would allow for not only greater communications but for better integration with existing networks, allowing some additional services to be available to the providers who are using legacy equipment.
TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS) in late 2013 introduced ESPTM Cyber Solutions, a security and protection portfolio developed by cyber intelligence and public safety technology experts using the best practices of the NG-SEC security guidelines. It may be that Cisco too has hit upon a possible solution. The Quantum Virtual Packet Core technologies and Premium Mobile Broadband are also being developed to provide for increased communication methodology for use by public safety, utility companies and even mining corporations.
Using the Cisco Virtual Packet Core technologies public safety can avail themselves of new technologies and can support applications over a private LTE that they cannot now support. Using the Quantum Virtual Packet Core technologies and Premium Mobile Broadband, improved services can be offered to public safety workers and those services can be integrated more readily with existing service providers and networks to provide for a wider range of communications. How can P2P (Point to Point) and PMP (Point to Multipoint) improve data speeds and reliability with a more robust backhaul and both LOS and N-LOS configurations?
The needs of the public are changing and service providers must change with them, offering increased services and increased value to those responsible for public safety. Where do you see the future of P25 digital radios for public safety and first responder communications going? What kind of networks should be available to them to ensure top quality communication and data transfer?