Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rockwell Collins announces plans to offer nationwide disaster communications system via HF radio

By Donny Jackson (Urgent Communications) WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rockwell Collins yesterday announced plans for ARINC UrgentLink, a nationwide high-frequency (HF) radio network that is designed to provide communications between public-safety and critical-infrastructure entities when local terrestrial networks have been destroyed by a man-made or natural disaster. UrgentLink utilizes spectrum allocated for maritime use, but it can be used on land during times of disaster, when normal communication infrastructure is inoperable, according to Dave Chapman, product manager for Rockwell Collins. “We believe it’s the first purpose-built network for disaster response with nationwide coverage,” Chapman said. “We’ve developed a system and a network that allows people to communicate using HF radios instead of traditional land mobile radios in disasters like this—and we made it easy.” Because of the propagation characteristics of the spectrum, HF radio has long been used as a method to communicate across vast distances, but it traditionally was the domain of amateur-radio operators licensed by the FCC. By using automatic link establishment (ALE) technology, the Rockwell Collins system lets HF radio can be used by anyone, Chapman said. “[With ALE], the radios are constantly talking to each other to determine the optimal frequency to use the next time the next time they place the call,” he said. “Instead of the traditional way that ham radio uses, it’s kind of one-touch calling, so that anybody can use it—it doesn’t take a specialization or an FCC license to do so. “That allows emergency managers, police officers, hospital administrators or anybody to reach outside a disaster zone and report what they need—after-response help and things like that—as well as talk to peers and other customers who use this service within the disaster zone.” Rockwell Collins currently has a pilot HF network with a large sheriff’s department and is in discussions to deploy other pilot systems, Chapman said. The company plans to offer commercial HF service within a year that will not require customer maintenance, he said. “We’re going to run this as a service, similar to having a cell phone,” Chapman said. “We will supply them with a radio that will work on the UrgentLink network, then Rockwell Collins will go out and do the install and manage it.” “[Customers will] pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee that gives you access to the network and the services that come with it.” With the service, UrgentLink customers will be able to communicate directly with each other, or they can communicate with others outside the HF system by contacting the Rockwell Collins operations center in Annapolis, Md. “You can talk between UrgentLink radio customers, but you can also reach the outside world,” Chapman said. “You may want to use the HF radio to send us an e-mail at the Rockwell Collins center, and we can forward it to wherever you want—or you can send us text messages or call us, and have us patch you through. The operation center can also do things like make a broadcast.” In 2012, 911 solutions provider Intrado announced an initiative to establish a commercial HF network that would provide disaster communications, but Intrado abandoned the concept and relinquished its rights to the maritime spectrum, Chapman said. The spectrum owner turned to Rockwell Collins, which has deployed and operated HF systems for the government and the military for years, he said. “Essentially, they needed a company with the heft and breadth of experience in HF to do this right, so they sought us out and that’s what we’ve done,” Chapman said. Last year, Rockwell Collins purchased ARINC—a company with a strong reputation as a provider of customer-facing HF gear—which positioned it well to pursue the UrgentLink initiative, given Rockwell Collins’ expertise in operating the backend equipment and software for HF systems, Chapman said. “ARINC has such a strong brand name in some of the markets that we’re in that we’re still using the ARINC name as part of the product that we’re offering, but it’s a Rockwell Collins company offering,” he said.