New app turns smart phone into secure two-way radio

Radio-over-IP product enables BlackBerry users to access emergency radio networks

A communications software company has found a way to make BlackBerry smart phones function like radio handsets for first responders and others who rely on limited-access radio networks.

Using radio-over-IP technology, and a new architecture that pushes audio to small devices with limited processing power, the new mobile communications platform permits BlackBerry users, reportedly for the first time, to participate in push-to-talk radio communications via the Internet.

The new Mobile Communicator for BlackBerry, introduced March 10 by Seattle-based Twisted Pair Solutions, is a thin client, Web-based technology that enables BlackBerry smart phone users to artificially tune their devices to WAVE-supported radio channels, using the device’s wireless Internet connection.

The new technology is expected to be particularly useful for military, law enforcement and emergency personnel who may not have an authorized radio handset at their disposal, but who would benefit from having access to radio communications, said Tom Guthrie, the company’s president. The application is built on the WAVE Thin Client Platform and supports military-grade security and encryption techniques.

“We’re now enabling point-to-point communications, irrespective of what network you’re on,” Guthrie said. “If you happen not to be on a Sprint network, (or other network) that someone is on, you can’t do point-to-point talk. This lets you do this.”

More fundamentally, it would allow organizations to “extend existing infrastructure (without) requiring any upgrades or uplifts,” and at significant savings, he said, by loading “an app on a client instead of having to buy $5,000 radios.”

Guthrie said initial pricing for Mobile Communicator for BlackBerry for a basic license without point-to-point transmission and reception security will cost about $325 per client. A version with secure point-to-point transmission and reception security on any network and on any device will cost about $745 per client. Applications for iPhone, Windows Mobile and Android operating systems are being developed, company officials said.

An executive with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, who asked not to be identified, said he was unfamiliar with the new application, but added, “it sounds pretty straightforward. There is a server in your enterprise [or hosted device]  that has the push-to-talk and/or radio feeds going into it. It then encrypts and sends the [audio] via data channel to the app on the BlackBerry. It sounds like an enterprise version of something like Pandora or Slacker.”

Bloggers on a Sprint Wireless community bulletin board reacted to the announcement about the push-to-talk over-IP solution with a wait-and-see attitude.

“I doubt that it will ever compare to iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) PTT in terms of real-world performance,” wrote one market observer who uses the handle Nxtl4me. “But given that it could be ubiquitous by virtue of the fact that it is based on VoIP-like technology (RoIP), and it is just an app, this conceivably could open a whole new chapter in the life of PTT. Of course, it might turn out to be a dog and never gain any market. But if it works reasonably well, it might just be a game-changer. We'll have to wait and see.”

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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