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Return to: 2006 Feature Stories

CLIENT: SDR Forum

June 2006: WINBC (Wireless Innovation Network of British Columbia) News

SOFTWARE DEFINED RADIO-AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO PUBLIC SAFETY INTEROPERATBILITY

The public safety community has been challenged in recent years to accelerate the pace of innovation in their radio systems. Communications in response to a host of incidents have highlighted problems with incompatible radio systems that left responders unable to communicate among themselves.

One evolving technology that holds promise to address interoperability challenges is software defined radio (SDR). The SDR Forum, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the development, deployment, and use of software defined radio, recently completed a year-long study on how SDR technology can impact public safety, culminating in the release of a report entitled “SDR Technology for Public Safety.”  The report was written by the Forum’s Public Safety Special Interest Group (SIG), which includes public safety practitioners, representatives of public safety land mobile radio (LMR) vendors, software developers, regulators, commercial cellular companies, universities, and public safety consultants.

This unique organization has brought together a diverse set of perspectives on public safety communications to consider how SDR technology could potentially address key issues such as interoperability, and the resulting report details a number of potential benefits as well as the additional efforts required to realize those benefits.

Public safety radios today incorporate SDR technology to support multiple protocols, but have significantly improved interoperability. The next significant step will be to utilize SDR to support multi-band radios. Multi-band radios could potentially include “waveforms” (software that controls the radio operating parameters such as frequency and modulation) that allow the radio to be reconfigured as a VHF, UHF, or 800 MHz radio as needed. For example, a multi-band radio would allow a responder to configure a single radio to operate on Burnaby Fire Department’s VHF system or the E-Comm 800 MHz regional public safety radio system, based on the location of the incident.

In addition to interoperability, cognitive capabilities, in which the radio or network operating parameters are modified based on real-time detection of the RF environment, have the potential for building smart networks that can adjust to dynamic conditions including interference and channel loading. Life cycle costs can be reduced by upgrading functions in software without wholesale system changes, and also by facilitating migration to new protocols and standards.

The SDR Forum Report also includes analysis of a number of key issues that remain to be addressed to fully realize the technology benefits. Issues include technical (antennas, front end processing, and security), economic (the need for better cost models to quantify the cost impact of SDR), and standards. The SDR Forum Public Safety SIG has begun addressing specific issues including how existing public safety standards and regulations support SDR security requirements; cognitive applications use cases for public safety; and a cost model for analyzing SDR impacts. The full SDR Forum Report can be downloaded from the SDR Forum website (http://www.sdrforum.org/appr_docs.html, Document 2006-A0001).

Return to: 2006 Feature Stories