Attendees at this year's International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) show held last month in San Diego had the chance to catch a glimpse of the future of law enforcement communications. That future was on display in the Harris Corp. booth in the form of the InTouch RPC-200, a rugged Android smartphone that can access the Public Safety Broadband network.
Like all other Android smartphones, the InTouch can also run apps, including Harris' BeOn push-to-talk app. Unlike other smartphones, the InTouch is designed to survive rough duty. It can operate after 30 minutes of immersion in water, and it meets or exceeds MIL-STD 810G for impact, vibration, and temperature.
The most fragile element of any smartphone is the display, and the InTouch RP-200 features one of the toughest screens ever developed for a smartphone. Paul May, Harris Corp.'s manager of systems marketing for public safety and professional communications, says the glass in the InTouch is significantly thicker than the glass used in commercial smartphones.
So is the device itself, but not so much that the average user would really care. The InTouch is about 23 millimeters thick, while a commercial Android phone like the Samsung Galaxy SII is about 10 millimeters thick. The additional girth is what makes the InTouch so rugged. It also means Harris' public safety smartphone does not need any additional protection such as a cover. May points out that prudent owners of expensive, fragile, and extremely thin commercial smartphones generally make them much thicker by protecting them with covers such as an Otter Box. "If I took my Samsung Galaxy SII and put it in an Otter Box (cover), it would be 20 millimeters to 25 millimeters thick, so we don't think the InTouch is so thick at 23 millimeters that users will see it as too bulky," he says.
In addition to its tough exterior, the InTouch has a more powerful battery than a commercial smartphone. The goal, according to May, was to make sure the phone could be operated throughout a public safety shift without any worries about battery life.
May says Harris envisions the InTouch as a complement to a land-mobile public safety radio and not a replacement. "People ask me, 'Does it support mission critical voice?' The answer that I like to give is that it's capable of providing voice and other services that are critical for a mission. I see it as a tool for somebody who is trying to direct an incident command and needs to look at a wide variety of data—video, floor plans, etc.—to help with that incident response."
In many ways, the InTouch RPC-200 is a tool that the public safety market is not quite ready for, at least not yet. It's enabled for the Public Safety Broadband network (also called Public Safety LTE, First Net, and Band 14), which is just now being built and will be developed slowly over the next decade or so. May says Harris is well aware that this product is so innovative that it may be before its time, but the company expects demand to climb as the Public Safety Network is built out. "This device will operate on that private network and be able to provide a quality of service and other types of priority and preemption on that network that first responders can't get on a commercial network," he says.
Until the Public Safety Broadband Network is available, the InTouch RPC-200 is a rugged smartphone that offers first responders full use of commercial carrier networks for voice and data, as well as push-to-talk capabilities through Harris' proprietary BeOn app.
The InTouch RPC-200 is expected to ship next summer. May says it will take that long to get the device approved by commercial carriers. Pricing has not been set, but it’s expected to be between $1,000 and $2,000.