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Why you want a tactical headset that works with your cellphone

The smartphone is becoming a more common communications device in the tactical environment, a combination of tactical and practical for SWAT operators


Sponsored by Silynx Communications

By Doug Wyllie for PoliceOne BrandFocus

It is well known that some tactical officers are turning to their mobile phones for real-time communications. Due to the nature of communications and of SWAT operations today, many of these operators are toggling back and forth between their two-way radios and their smartphones. But how often are SWAT officers taking phone calls while out on a run?

As the smartphone becomes a more common communications device in the tactical environment, integration between the phones and two-way radios may be the most effective combination of tactical and practical. (image/iStock)
As the smartphone becomes a more common communications device in the tactical environment, integration between the phones and two-way radios may be the most effective combination of tactical and practical. (image/iStock)

Based on his conversations with numerous SWAT operators, Matthew Hemenez, ‎a senior vice president with Silynx Communications, estimates that more than half say they use cellphones on call-outs for making calls and for other reasons.

As the smartphone becomes a more common communications device in the tactical environment, integration between the phones and two-way radios may be the most effective combination of tactical and practical for SWAT teams.

Integration for multiple devices

Some teams are actually using two radios, Hemenez said – one for the team level and one for headquarters. But when that’s not feasible or affordable, the cellphone can fill the need for an additional communications device in the tactical environment.

“If that’s the case, then you want to integrate it with your headset. You don’t want to have to use your phone one way and use your radio another way,” Hemenez said, adding that integration streamlines the call process so operators can stay focused on the mission.

“Everyone knows what it’s like to take or make a phone call. You’ve got to pull it out of your pocket. You’ve got to look at it. You’ve got to push talk and put it up to your ear,” he said. “Having it integrated with your headset system takes all of that away. It becomes another tactical communications device that’s connected to your headset, and if you get a phone call, then you tap the button on your headset and you take that phone call through your headset just like you would your two-way radio.”

The headset should operate such that the cellphone traffic doesn’t preclude the two-way radio traffic, he added. This could mean the system is set up so the radio traffic supersedes the cellphone traffic – or, as in the case of the headsets Silynx makes, the system handles those communications channels separately, with the cellphone coming through in one ear and the radio traffic coming into the other.

Three capabilities to consider

Once the decision is made to integrate cellphones into the tactical environment, Hemenez suggests that buyers look for three things to find a headset that is capable of doing so in the most seamless way possible:

  1. Modularity – You may want to accommodate multiple models or types of radios or cellphones, or one radio and one cellphone. You also want the headset to be interchangeable so that you’re not limited to one device.
  2. Traffic priority – Another critical factor is dealing with two-way radio traffic versus cellphone traffic. Look for a system that allows you to prioritize the radio traffic.
  3. Audio quality – Make sure the headset has sufficient audio quality to pass through cellphone voice traffic as clearly and succinctly as the two-way radio traffic.

Hemenez also advises that the connection to the mobile phone should be a direct cable – not Bluetooth. That wireless connection, so common in the consumer world, can become a serious tactical liability.

“You’ve got to make sure you’re synced. You don’t know when it’s going to unsync – it will unsync right at the wrong time. You also have to keep the Bluetooth headset charged, which means one more thing to remember in an already stressful environment,” he said.

Hemenez concedes that integrating the cellphone into the tactical headset is not for everybody. As roughly half of SWAT teams are making calls on their mobile phones, the other half would probably say, “What are you talking about? I wouldn’t touch a cellphone in a tactical situation.”

However, those teams that look at this emerging technology favorably should seek out a tactical headset system that can connect to individual operators’ cellphones and two-way radios to provide seamless, integrated communication for improved efficiency, situational awareness and convenience.

About the Author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, providing police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column and has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips. Doug hosts the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, and is the host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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