Motorola's APX 7000L is an LMR radio that can also receive and transmit LTE data for texts and programming. Photo: Motorola

Motorola's APX 7000L is an LMR radio that can also receive and transmit LTE data for texts and programming. Photo: Motorola

Law enforcement communications are in transition. Field officers still depend on land mobile radio (LMR) voice transmissions for most mission critical information, but there will soon come a day when data transmissions over cellular networks such as the public safety broadband system known as FirstNet will be as important, if not more important, than voice communications.

Motorola Solutions is preparing for that future. For two years now the company has been developing a hybrid LMR/cellular data radio. The Motorola APX 7000L Multiband Radio with LTE is an upgrade of the company's popular digital P25 APX 7000 radio handset that will receive LTE data signals over a yet-to-be-disclosed nationwide cellular carrier and, when it comes online, FirstNet. "We like to think of the APX 7000L as two radios in one," says Chuck Phillips, Motorola's vice president for product planning.

The data reception and transmission capabilities of the APX 7000L are limited but significant. Officers can send texts over the handset. It also allows for GPS tracking of officers whether they are inside or outside of their vehicles. Most importantly, the radio can be programmed and configured in the field with no interruption in voice communications.

Reprogramming radios in the field could be a major step toward solving one of the greatest problems in public safety communications, interoperability between agencies during a critical incident. "Reprogramming radios on the fly means you don't have to pick up a loaner or take a radio to a service center for multi-agency response or response outside your normal jurisdiction," Phillips says. "Your radio can be reconfigured while you travel. When you get there, there's no delay and you are capable of instantly responding with the resources that are already on scene."

Another benefit of the LTE capabilities of the APX 7000L is that communications can be made more secure. With non-LTE radios, communications managers had to take the radios out of the field to change the security keys and that made changing the security keys on a frequent basis time-consuming and expensive because the radios had to be swapped out. "With the cellular network parallel to voice communications on the APX 7000L, you're free to change your security keys at any time while the radios are in the field," Phillips says.

Reconfiguring and reprogramming radios in the field means less downtime for radios and cost savings and increased productivity for agencies. But for individual officers the most important benefit of the APX 7000L is likely to be improved officer safety.

The APX 7000L's LTE capability gives officers an alternative to LMR signals to transmit critical messages. When officers are outside the LMR network's coverage area, they can use the LTE network to send pre-programmed texts such as "officer needs assistance" or "send backup." More importantly, the "officer emergency" button on the radio can alert dispatch over the LMR network and location information can be sent by LTE to pinpoint the distressed officer's location.

Phillips says agencies don't have to wait for FirstNet (public safety broadband) to come online in their jurisdictions before embracing the capabilities of hybrid radios that offer voice and LTE data. "There's no reason why an agency that is looking at procurement of radios today can't prepare themselves for the needs of today and for the future," he says.

The Motorola APX 7000L sells for a nominal premium over the company's APX 7000. Agencies already using the APX 7000 can also upgrade to add the LTE data capabilities of the APX 7000L. First shipments of the product are scheduled for the third quarter of this year.