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Brian Cain

Brian Cain is a sergeant with the Holly Springs (Ga.) Police Department, and is known as the "Millennial cop" on Twitter. He has been in law enforcement since 2000. He hosts and produces a podcast for Millennials in law enforcement.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He 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).

Michael Bostic

Michael Bostic

Mike Bostic, of Raytheon Corp.'s Civil Communication Solutions group, specializes in open architecture, systems integration of communications and data programs. Mike spent 34 years with the LAPD. He managed IT and facility development, as well as the SWAT Board of Inquiry, which developed new command-and-control systems.

P25 Systems: Harris Corp.'s Enhanced Failsoft with Security

New Advancement in Traditional Failure Fall-Back Systems Retains Security and Capability of P25 Systems During Site Failure.

March 29, 2013  |  by Michael Bostic - Also by this author

Harris Corp.'s XG-75 single-band radio incorporates the Harris P25 systems Enhanced Failsoft with Security mode technology. Photo courtesy of Harris.
Harris Corp.'s XG-75 single-band radio incorporates the Harris P25 systems Enhanced Failsoft with Security mode technology. Photo courtesy of Harris.

Public safety radio networks are built for survivability so communications systems work when needed. A concept known as "failover" is an important aspect of survivability. Failover ensures that when parts of the overall system fail—either due to component issues or natural and man-made disasters—that the system continues to operate. Traditional system design incorporates redundancy for critical components.

The term "failsoft" refers to any failover condition that causes a digital trunked radio system to not trunk. This is most commonly caused by a loss of the control channel that subscriber radios use when communicating to the towers to assign a resource. Traditionally in this state, all transmitters (channels) turn on and operate in a conventional repeater mode. Subscriber radios are able to recognize this state and switch to a predetermined frequency.

In most systems, several talkgroups share a frequency. Some talk groups may not be assigned a failsoft frequency and these talk groups will cease to operate during the failsoft period. If a particular failsoft frequency has also failed, the talk groups assigned to that frequency will be off the air.

Today, many users of modern P25 digital systems are unfamiliar with conventional analog radio systems. Using conventional systems effectively to maintain radio capabilities requires experience or training to understand differences such as:

  • In an analog system, one radio user can override and talk over another, interrupting urgent messages.
  • Most analog signals are not encrypted, and all digital systems that fail over to analog systems lose encryption.
  • Roaming between sites is done manually with adjustment of the knob position to select new channels. The talk group does not follow the user as in a trunked radio system.
  • Conventional radio systems do not support user authentication.

With current trunked digital P25 systems, the average user is unaware of how the system operates and what safety it creates in radio transmission. These include:

  • Encrypted radio and data transmission are free of public and criminal scanning.
  • Users are authenticated through automated Unit ID capabilities, while rogue users are denied.
  • Anyone roaming between tours within a given system, or an adjoining system with interoperability gateways, can use the encrypted Unit ID capabilities.

When a trunked P25 system has a failure from a site or repeater, it goes into failsoft mode, greatly limiting user capabilities. In current failsoft mode, several limitations are placed on most radio manufacturers' systems. These include:

  • The digital signal is no longer possible, forcing it into analog mode.
  • Users must manually switch onto the appropriate conventional channels.
  • The Unit ID feature is lost; dispatchers can no longer identify users.
  • Automatic roaming is lost.
  • Trunking features are lost.
  • Rogue users can use and listen to the system, overriding emergency calls.

Harris Corp.'s P25 system solves these issues with its Enhance Failsoft with Security mode, resulting in:

  • Any repeater in the sites can assume control channel responsibility, not just a pre-determined few, reducing the probability a failsoft event occurs.
  • All sites maintain a list of authorized users. Users are authenticated even if connection to the core is lost.
  • All calls remain encrypted.
  • Unit ID and call priority is maintained.
  • No user action is required.
  • Automatic roaming is supported.
  • Trunked operations maintained.
  • Interference mitigation maintained—talk groups steered away from interfered channels.
  • Each site automatically broadcasts on pre-defined frequencies.

Users see very little change. No rogue users can scan or use the system. Radio frequencies remain efficient, ensuring the best signal.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Nick Powell @ 4/2/2013 5:00 AM

This sounds like a feature called site trunking which has been around for many years. The issue with this failure mode is that new users cannot affiliate with the site, only users that were previously affiliated. Also, you lose the dispatch ability in this mode, with the backup plan being the dispatch center needs to move from their console device to a fixed control station or handheld and have communications locally, that is to the sites where they can reach via RF, being local or remote RF control. It is better than not having backup but there are limitations. There are some better alternatives.

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