Thursday, March 8, 2012

First Doofus Award for 2012 - "The Channel"!

Interoperability - A good idea gone terribly wrong! 

It is very popular these days to bring Congress and lesser government agencies under the gun as being responsible for all of our woes. While I am no fan of politics in general, I have to occasionally give those who serve us the benefit of the doubt.  Case in point - Interoperability!

After the terrorists attacks in NY and Washington, it became very clear that we had to improve our emergency communications capability and do it quickly.  Congress was asked to provide funding to make it happen.  Unfortunately, in emergency situations, there is not a lot of time to do proper planning.  Some of us call it the fire-aim-ready decision making process.  The intent may have been honorable, but the results have been somewhat less than successful.

We all know about the relationships between government and large corporations as well as the abuses that often occur.  There is nothing new about this.  What IS new iS a relatively new kind of corruption at a much lower level that has essentially destroyed any hope of efficient communications interoperability.

While the P25 technical standard may not be perfect, the intent of providing the ability to efficiently MIGRATE to narrow band was a primary consideration of the planners.  They knew that users would not be able to just flip a switch to convert to narrow band.  They knew as bandwidth was reduced from 25 to 12.5 to 6.25 kHz, that all VHF and UHF 2-way radio systems would ultimately be digital.  The objective was to allow these users to gradually phase out analog systems with digital as budgetary and operational needs required.

Then along comes "the channel".  That is the insider name for those of us involved in the planning, sales, and service of communications equipment.  Our customers trust us to help them through the process.  Instead of helping them, all too many of us have been helping OURSELVES, and in the process, effectively destroyed any hope of successful interoperability.  Not all of us our guilty, but far too many have placed their own interests above that of serving our nation and our customers.  For this, "the channel" is today's recipient of our infamous Doofus Award.  Here are a few examples.

A Motorola channel partner (think dealer) upgraded the Sheriff's radio system to P25 using federal grant money for interoperability.  Instead of setting up the system for mixed mode operation which would allow the use of BOTH analog and digital radios, he locked the system to digital only, effectively disabling the Sheriff's ability to utilize analog surveillance equipment, not to mention being able to communicate with other agencies that were utilizing analog.

Then, there is the Kenwood channel partner that told users in a small rural county that they HAD to convert to digital to meet new rules.  It scared the public safety users in the county seat so badly that they switched to digital before they had enough money to convert all their radios.  In effect, they REDUCED the capability of their old system and completely lost the ability to talk to the Sheriff.  Now everyone in the county is scrambling to come up with the money to go all digital.  You KNOW that the radios are NOT programmed for mixed mode operation don't you?

The user doesn't even have the option of calling someone else in to program their repeater for mixed mode operation as the dealer has them on a contract that prohibits access to the system by anyone but him.  Brilliant marketing strategy or fraud?  You be the judge.

Customers being locked in to proprietary systems, vendors controlling what customers can and cannot do WITH THEIR OWN SYSTEM, ignoring the real objective of interoperability and sacrificing the interest of the user for the preservation of the dealers self interest - Shame on us!  Our industry and "the channel" DESERVES the Doofus award.  We've earned it!