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Mobile County, AL, bolsters first responder communications with broadband mobile application

David Simon

Setting the stage for LTE in Mobile County 

Mobile County, Alabama, was looking for ways to expand its public safety communications footprint. At the same time, it wanted to tap into the power of LTE broadband to ensure the highest levels of interoperability and connectivity for its senior leadership, regardless of their physical location. 

While Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems typically offer the highest levels of resiliency, basic connectivity is inherently limited by geographic coverage -- particularly for legacy systems. Looking to break down traditional LMR communications silos associated with the demanding environment of public safety radio systems, Mobile County’s director of public safety communications, Eric Linsley, began working with longtime partner and communications provider, Harris Corp., to examine potential solutions. 

The county operates on an 800 MHz EDACS (Enhanced Digital Access Communications System) for its public safety radio communications. While the EDACS system has served the county well for many years, Mobile is now migrating to a more modern 700 MHz Project 25 (P25) system from Harris Corp., based on industry-accepted P25 standards for interoperable communications. The new system uses the Harris VIDA (Voice, Interoperability, Data and Access) network, providing the right technology to deliver performance in LMR today, and take advantage of the functionality offered by LTE. 

The convergence of the power of LMR and broadband 

In 2011, Harris offered Mobile the opportunity to participate in a pilot program for a new push-to-talk application called BeOn, and the county enthusiastically agreed. The BeOn application is built to run on the Android mobile operating platform. The application allows for managed group and push-to-talk communications between smartphones by connecting to the backbone of the county’s radio system as well as commercial networks, and leveraging the capabilities of the VIDA network. 

BeOn provides a link between Mobile’s existing radio systems and other IP networks, including commercial cellular 3G, 4G and LTE networks, and WiFi or LANs. It enables push-to-talk voice, presence and situational awareness via smartphone, whether personal consumer or agency issued. Augmenting the county’s mission-critical systems, BeOn allows county staff and command to participate in incident communications or monitor situations. The application consists of a server with its own firewall that is linked to the radio backbone on one side and the IP network on the other, through an Ethernet port. The BeOn server can handle up to 10,000 users and recognizes logical talkgroups established in the digital radio system, allowing designated users to communicate over managed channels much like a traditional digital mobile radio. It also identifies BeOn users who are talkgroup members and forwards transmissions to their phones. Using a push-to-talk function on the phone, the application receives and sends transmissions to the server. 

The implementation of BeOn for users in Mobile County took less than a day. Once configured, county leadership and administration officials were able to immediately connect and stay informed -- virtually from anywhere that the county system or the commercial cellular networks – have coverage. 

Implications for city and county agencies 

Mobile County is taking an enormous leap forward by leveraging the true potential of broadband technology for public safety and public service officials. With input from users such as Mobile County, the BeOn application will soon feature an even more expansive feature set, employing the data and imaging capabilities made possible by LTE broadband, and allowing for significantly improved situational awareness for users. 

David Simon is a product manager of data products at Harris Corp. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

 

 

 

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