Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Science and technology for us ordinary folks.......

Over the past few months we have received numerous calls concerning abnormal interference by VHF 2-way radio system users. Interfering signals are being received at distances of up to several hundred miles or more, both by 2-way radio users and even on the FM radio broadcast band. Generally, the interference is at its worst early in the morning and diminishes considerably by late morning.

This condition in non-technical terms is known as skip or "ducting", a phenomenon that occurs when radio signals that normally pass out into space bounce off an abnormally charged ionosphere or heavy moisture particle content associated with moving weather fronts. Sun spots or solar flares are the most common cause of skip interference. Over eleven year intervals, the Sun increasingly emits unusually intense hot spots - kind of like stoking a furnace (for those who remember such things). These supercharged flares create unusually high radiation that charges our ionosphere which causes the aforementioned signal bounce. You can learn more about Sun spots at http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/SunspotCycle.shtml.

The combination of a slow moving weather front coupled with escalated Sun spot activity creates the condition that can bring chaos to FM broadcasters and VHF 2-way radio users. UHF is rarely affected since higher frequencies are less likely to bounce from the abnormally charged ionosphere and/or slow moving weather fronts with high moisture content. Fortunately, this condition rarely lasts for more than a few days. Unfortunately, there is little you can do except live with it until it passes. Like most bad things (or even good things for that matter), skip don't last very long. We thought you might like to know what is happening if you have experienced this problem. Knowledge is power!

A comment on federal grant funding for communications equipment

There seems to be some confusion concerning the necessity for procuring P25 compatible equipment when using federal grant money, and in particular, AFG funding applicable to the 2009 guidelines.

Those who attended the FEMA sponsored meetings clearly recall guidance indicating that the purchase of communications equipment would only be approved for the purchase of P25 equipment (pagers excluded).

In the 2009 grant application instructions, numerous references are made to the requirement that all communications equipment purchases must be in compliance with applicable State interoperability communications plans. We can't speak for all States, but we can share some information that is applicable in the State of Alabama and possibly elsewhere as well.

For purposes of definition, P25 is an operating standard that is capable of operating on both 25 and 12.5 kHz channel spacing in both an analog AND digital mode - not just any digital mode, but SPECIFICALLY P25 - Not MotoTRBO, NXDN or any other digital operating standard - JUST P25, period! If you want a definition of P25, we invite you to visit http://midlandradio.com/Products/About-P25. Additional information on the comparative between the three most popular digital radio systems is available at www.info4u.us/Ready4P25.pdf.

At the Federal level, all agencies are required to purchase P25 communications equipment only for purposes of maintaining interoperability between agencies as defined by SAFECOM. By extension, any federal funds spent on the purchase of communications equipment at the State, County, or Municipal level would be subject to the same requirement. This is reflected in the 2009 FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant program. For those who require additional clarification on this subject, we suggest that you (a) review the applicable grant application forms or (b) contact your FEMA representative.

At the State level each State Homeland Security office is required to prepare a Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP) based on Federal standard requirements. Alabama's plan is available at www.dhs.alabama.gov/pdf/Alabama_SCIP_Plan_Final.pdf. It is a fairly large document, but the bottom line is that it clearly states that P25 is the only acceptable operating standard. The following is an excerpt from page 155. "Invoke Project 25 (P25) standards to all relevant statewide and local agencies procurement and use of communications equipment". That seems pretty clear!

Alabama's SCIP was prepared in 2007. This would appear to indicate that any communications equipment purchased after that time would be P25 capable only. In the 2009 Assistance to Firefighters Grant application, the requirement for purchasing only equipment in compliance with the applicable State plan is clearly stated, and in fact, Alabama DHS has the responsibility to review all AFG applications for compliance with the State SCIP. It would appear that this policy would also apply to the purchase of enforcement communications equipment purchased with federal funds.

So, what's the point? Simply this. If both Federal and State standards require funding only for P25 equipment and you purchase equipment that is not P25 compatible, you are potentially at risk of losing your grant funds even though they have been awarded and spent. Our job is not that of a watchdog or whistle blower. Our job is to do our best to give you the facts necessary to make the right decision in purchasing communications equipment when using federal grant funds. We offer four different P25 offerings on the Alabama State Contract from ICOM, Midland, Motorola, and Relm/BK.

If you are considering purchasing communications equipment with federal grant funds, we invite you to call on us. To help you get started, we have prepared generic P25 specifications on repeaters, mobiles, and portables that can assist you in making sure that you get compliant P25 equipment when you go to bid. (See www.info4u.us/P25BidSpecs.pdf). We hope you will include us as a potential vendor. Our vendor information is as follows - Falcon Direct - #36 - 20th Avenue NW - Birmingham, AL 35215.

Give us a chance at winning your business. Our job is taking care of YOU!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Public Safety Communications Planner Now Available!

Seldom does a day go by that someone doesn't ask us to provide information on setting up a 2-way radio system or to improve an existing system. In days past, the answer was fairly simple but today, things are a little more complicated. There is the issue of the FCC with matters of current technical standards as well as those which will be implemented in 2013 and changed again in 2018

There are basic questions like whether to choose VHF, UHF, 800 MHz, Mesh, Wi-Fi or low band or 4.9 or 5.2 or 5.8 MHz frequency bands. There are technology choices. Do you choose analog or digital and if digital - which digital technology? Which is the best? MotoTRBO, NXDN or P25 and what are the cost differences and what are the benefits? Even the selection of a vendor becomes an issue. Which ones have the best prices, the most flexibility, the most features, the longest warranty adaptability to meeting changing regulatory and technical standards.

Then there are questions about installation, and post sale services as well as issues with supplemental technology such as GPS, messaging and the list goes on! Rather than reinventing the wheel every time a call is received, we thought the better answer might be to make the effort to develop a simple, easy to understand Communications Planner, so that's what we did. You can review the results at www.info4u.us/SystemPlanner.pdf. Hope you find it useful!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New products for golf course administration

Falcon Direct announces new products for golf course administration! New TC-780 sprinkler control radio is compatible with Toro and other RF controlled sprinkler systems is a direct replacement for the Motorola P1225 and other keypad type 2-way radios. The TC-780 offers comparable capabilities to the Motorola EX600 and HT1250 at significant cost savings and is fully compatible with wireless call boxes and other products offered for golf course administration. Details at www.falcondirect.com/golf.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New SlapNGo vehicle monitoring system

Even good drivers can be better drivers with improved supervision! Our new SlapNGo wireless vehicle monitoring system can be used by fleet administrators to selectively monitor random vehicles as desired.

SlapNGo is a completely self contained wireless tracking device than requires no wiring or installation. Just slap it on the vehicle and it's good to go, securely held by an 80 lb magnet and weatherproof housing. All vehicle movement can be continually monitored from any Internet connected PC. Additional information is available at www.info4u.us/BusTrak.pdf.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New cellphone detector for schools!

Our new 710AF can drastically reduce texting and cheating in school classrooms. This incredible device looks like an ordinary air freshener, but inside is a highly sophisticated cellphone detector that can pickup up voice or text signals for all types of cellphones including AT&T, Nextel, Sprint, SouthernLINC, T-Mobile, and Verizon. When activated, a signal is transmitted to a silent alerting device worn by the teacher. Additional information on the 710AF is available at www.info4u.us/710.pdf.

A portable, battery powered model is available for covert personal use as well as a special model for use in correctional facilities. Call 800.489.2611 for additional information.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Trade your old 2-way radios now - Save a LOT of money!

Trade in your old 2-way radios now while they still have some value and get a brand new radio for as little as $149! Details are available by clicking here. Two models are available - both feature 16 channels with scan, CTCSS and DCS. Lithium-Ion batteries, rapid chargers, and a 2 year factory warranty are standard. Both the standard TC-518 and the advanced model TC-610P feature 5 watts of power in either VHF or UHF and includes your choice of 2-tone paging or MDC-1200 signaling in the TC-610P model.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Switch to digital by 2012 required?

Well, it's happened again! We have a competitor that is unencumbered with the restraints that normally control the boundaries of ethical business practices. Just a year ago, this same competitor (click here for the whole story) told a prospective customer that we were required to purchase Motorola equipment from the competitors company (which presumably meant there was no reason to consider our price offerings since we HAD to charge more).

Now, this same competitor is spreading the word that everyone using 2-way radio will be required to switch to digital by 2012. Naturally, the competitors company offers a "solution" while the rest of us are apparently still in the dark about this unpublished fact. I can't blame an existing 2-way user for being concerned. A mandatory requirement to replace all existing analog 2-way radios could represent a significant investment. Locally, we heard this rumor through a hospital customer. In Florida, we heard if from a public safety user. This rumor is apparently spreading very nicely! Now, let's take a look at the truth.

The fact is that all radios must be capable of operating at 12.5 KHz (Narrow Band) by 2013 and 6.25 kHz (Very Narrow Band) by 2018. There is no requirement for digital at all except when using federal funding for purchasing of new communications equipment. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stipulates P25 compatibility (which is one of four forms of digital technology used in the USA) for communications equipment to be purchased with DHS grant funds. More information on this subject is available by clicking here.

Technically, there are some benefits associated with digital technology over analog, in particular in relation to FM radios. I won't get into the details except to say that in Europe, AM technology has been used quite successfully on narrow band channels for over 50 years. Having said that, I think it would be safe to say the advances in digital technology will result in improved features at lower cost for most of us, but that is a subject for another day. The point for the moment is that THERE IS NO FEDERAL STANDARD REQUIRING A SWITCH TO DIGITAL FOR EXISTING 2-WAY RADIO USERS - PERIOD, END OF COMMENT!

You know what's so funny about all this? Lying, or ignorance, as applicable, can be a successful sales tactic but we will continue doing business as we always have - fairly and honestly. Just thought you might like to know that we are not quite as uninformed as some would think - just operating on the principals that we have learned to be the best in the long run. Thanks for allowing us to bloviate.