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May 26, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

More Than Just a Radio

Digital two-way radios for the school bus industry offer messaging capabilities, increased capacity, interoperability and GPS tracking, all while remaining affordable.

by Brittany-Marie Swanson

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Digital two-way radios can improve school bus security through optional interoperability with first responders and GPS tracking.

Digital two-way radios can improve school bus security through optional interoperability with first responders and GPS tracking.

Communications equipment for school buses and other mobile applications has become increasingly feature-rich and customizable. Two-way radios that operate on a digital platform offer interoperability, GPS tracking and messaging capabilities - all of which can dramatically increase school bus security.

Not only are digital two-way radios more effective than analog systems, they are cost-effective as well. Many mobile communications solutions are similar in cost to analog systems; even better, they will eliminate recurring cellular network fees while providing increased clarity and capacity.

To learn about the newest communications options for the school bus market, SBF spoke with representatives from Kenwood USA Corp., Motorola Solutions and Sprint. They say that their latest communications products have the potential to drastically improve communication between you and your school bus drivers.

Digital radios offer increased capacity, text messages
Kenwood USA Corp. and Motorola Solutions offer two-way radio equipment for mobile applications and a number of solutions that can be paired with this equipment to meet communication needs on a school bus. Both companies can combine their offerings to create custom solutions for individual operators.

For instance, Motorola's MOTOTRBO platform for digital two-way radios can allow "instant push-to-talk between buses and garages, businesses, schools and even public safety interoperability if that's something that the school district is looking for," says Brandon Williams, education solutions lead, North America, for Motorola Solutions. "Business critical environments and school buses in particular are really good applications for the MOTOTRBO platform."

Radios utilizing MOTOTRBO give bus drivers the ability to send text messages as well as communicate over two voice channels using delay-tolerate networking (DTN) technology. (DTN allows for continuous networking connectivity, even in mobile environments.)

"Over traditional [analog] channels in the past, you could only have one conversation at once," Williams explains. "We've doubled the capacity of the voice infrastructure over what school districts have had in the past."

Similarly, Kenwood offers communications equipment that operates on its digital NEXEDGE system, such as "mobile [and] portable [radios], base stations and repeaters to provide a complete communications system for bus fleets," says Alex Hinerfeld, vice president of Secom Systems Inc., an authorized representative for Kenwood USA Corp.'s communications sector.

Kenwood radios using the digital NEXEDGE system offer an abundance of features that are not available to users on analog systems. While an analog radio can only be used for basic voice communication, NEXEDGE radios offer messaging capabilities, interoperability and encryption.

"NEXEDGE system communications are encrypted so that someone with a scanner cannot listen in on communications between the driver and dispatch," Hinerfeld explains. Also, the system can be "configured to support other organizations within the school district, including security and operations."

These options can help districts to improve security on their school buses by allowing instant communication between drivers and security personnel, as well as prevent unauthorized individuals from listening to district radio communications.

Motorola two-way radios that work on its MOTOTRBO platform allow for two simultaneous conversations over a single channel.
<p>Motorola two-way radios that work on its MOTOTRBO platform allow for two simultaneous conversations over a single channel.</p>

GPS solutions can track buses, students
Sprint offers customizable school bus tracking GPS solutions that can help an operation to improve student safety by monitoring the locations of its buses and to create more effi cient bus routes. These solutions can be applied to a number of radio technologies.

"If [the district is] deploying PTT [push-to-talk] devices or handsets to their drivers, we have solutions that will allow the handset to be the GPS tracking device," explains Charnsin Tulyasathien, senior manager of product management for mobile applications at Sprint. "If the district would rather have an onboard device, we have a number of certified boxes that can be installed."

According to Tulyasathien, "black boxes" - embedded modems and routers - can become a "communications hub for voice-driven track/trace/diagnostics solutions." This equipment can even help to collect engine diagnostics and data on driver behavior.

Sprint's GPS tracking devices for handheld two-way radios are a relatively inexpensive way to track the course of a school bus in near real time. Typically, a black box monitoring the hand-held would be wired into the bus' electrical system to prevent any power supply disruptions to the hand-held that could interrupt GPS tracking.

In conjunction with ActSoft Inc., Sprint also offers school districts the opportunity to track individual students getting on and off the bus through the use of hardware that can be integrated into a handset. This hardware can be used to scan ID cards with bar codes or radio frequency identification (RFID) cards.

Motorola has also recently incorporated digital two-way radios and RFID technology using its MOTOTRBO platform.

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