During IACP 2013 last year, I came across Motorola’s new Unified PTT, which puts P25 LMR signal into your LTE-enabled smartphone. At the time, I’d never before seen such a capability demonstrated, and thought it to be pretty groundbreaking technology (it is quite cool, trust me).
But Don Rumsfeld was right when he famously said that we don’t know what we don’t know. I returned home from Philadelphia to discover a note from the PR folks for Harris Corporation.
Turns out, Harris has been providing P25 LMR PTT to for a few years. Harris’ BeOn app/service is available for devices operating on Android, iOS, and Microsoft Windows, and runs on broadband networks from 3G and 4G commercial cellular to muni WiFi and/or dedicated public safety LTE.
Bridging Gaps with Apps
Launched in 2010, the Harris BeOn solution delivers full Push-to-Talk (PTT) to any smartphone, tablet, or PC operating on a broadband network anywhere in the world where one (or more) of those abovementioned data services is available.
David Simon, Project Manager for BeOn at Harris told me that the company had recognizing very early on the massive potential represented by the convergence of traditional land mobile radio (LMR) radio systems and the promise of LTE.
“While LMR is the proven technology for first responder communications, radio coverage is inherently limited by geographic coverage area,” Simon told me.
Designed collaboratively by Harris’ LMR and LTE divisions, BeOn bridges any such gaps.
“BeOn is designed from the ground up to turn your smartphone into a P25 radio,” Simon explained.
According to Simon, the BeOn app is first professional push-to-talk (PTT) solution for first responders to enable enterprises to “have managed group communications anywhere in the world.”
With an emphasis on providing constant connectivity for senior leadership — regardless of their physical location — the combination of LMR and LTE PTT applications provides tremendous connectivity capabilities enabling command staff and other critical team members to participate in incident communications or monitor situations even outside of their traditional radio service area.
There are numerous public safety agencies across the Untied States already using BeOn with this capability as a top-of-mind benefit. One such customer is Montgomery County (Texas) Hospital District — a bit of a misnomer, because the organization no longer owns the Hospital, but does operate the public service radio system for police, fire, and EMS, across 1100 square miles of Montgomery County.
“One of the primary drivers for BeOn adoption in Montgomery County was the ability for administrators — who often find themselves outside of the radio coverage area, to be able to respond to incidents regardless of their location” said Justin Evans, the Radio System Manager at Montgomery County Hospital.
“BeOn is currently used by Administrators to maintain radio coverage while they are out of radio system range,” Evans added.
Evans said also that while current adoption is “significant and impactful, using mostly 4G service and Samsung G4S phones,” the now iOS standardized county has big plans for BeOn in early 2014, now that the application is available to potentially all of its employees using the iPhone and iPad.
In addition to traditional P25 radio features, BeOn also enables presence, geolocation, and situational awareness features. When used in conjunction with a Harris radio system, BeOn can show the location of both BeOn devices as well as GPS-equipped LMR units.
Built on the Harris VIDA network, BeOn provides a connection between existing P25 radio systems and other IP networks— it is, according to Simon, the “first application to support managed group and push-to-talk communications utilizing most consumer smartphones.”
“The core feature set mimics the P25 standard. Unlike other generic cellular PTT applications, BeOn contains the industry-standard P25 vocoder, which improves voice quality when communicating with P25 land mobile radios, significantly enhances PTT speed, and enables end to end encryption between BeOn smartphones and radios.”
The application consists of a server with its own firewall that is linked directly into the radio backbone on one side, and the IP network on the other.
According to Harris, each BeOn server can handle up to 5,000 users and recognizes logical talkgroups established in the digital radio system, allowing designated users to communicate over managed channels much like a traditional digital radio.
BeOn equipped smartphones user IDs, talkgroup permissions, and whatnot are administered from the same user interface as radios “making administration far simpler than other solutions which require manual synchronization of databases,” said Simon.
There in Texas
There are numerous use cases for BeOn in the Montgomery County Hospital District, particularly related to BeOn’s mapping features. Mapping has tremendous potential for incident commanders who now have the ability to track the location of their officers from a command vehicle during an incident.
Major advantages are offered by not only mapping BeOn users, but the ability to map an officer’s location via land mobile radio. The ability to integrate geo-tracking with PTT from PCs and phones provides real advantages in terms of response efficiency and safety.
There are discussions taking place in Montgomery County to equip certain undercover officers with BeOn. You’re not going to do UC work with a traditional radio on your hip, but having a Bluetooth-connected mic/earbuds and a mobile phone in your pocket is certainly a conceivable option.
Beyond continuing expansion among public safety administrators and certain UC officers, Montgomery County has other big plans for BeOn.
“Mapping functionality opens up a huge opportunity for charge nurses in the hospitals, so that using the application they can actually track and see when a transport unit is getting close to the hospital,” Evans told me. “BeOn for tow trucks has also been discussed. Today the trucks have scanners to help them find and respond to accidents. For volunteer and part-time firefighters, being able to communicate when they don’t have a radio is imperative,” Evans said.
“For me, as radio system administrator, BeOn has already been a huge time saver, to provide a means to respond to any complaints when I am outside of the LMR coverage footprint... BeOn works very well. PTT speed, audio quality, and access time are all great!” Evans concluded.