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Over-the-Air (OTA) Communications Improvements for Police Departments

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2009
2 pages
This article describes the features and benefits of Over-the-Air Programming (OTAP) for improvements in police radio communications.
The key benefit of OTAP is the ability to change a radio’s features from afar. Without OTAP, changing a police radio’s features involves a technician making the changes during radio downtimes. Updating police car radios requires taking the cars out of service and sometimes even driving them to a dealer for the update installation. OTAP allows police departments to update radio software and change a radio’s features by beaming the updates directly to the radios. Although used sparingly in police departments currently, OTAP has been a major part of military and cellular networks for more than a decade. Basic OTAP services include the ability to update and change channel plans and talk groups. More advanced OTAP will support changes to individual user profiles and may include the ability to update and change applications on an individual radio. OTAP has implications for Project 25 (P25), which is an effort to develop standards for new radio systems for State, local, and Federal law enforcement agencies and other first responders. OTAP is not currently part of the P25 standard. This oversight should be addressed. When buying new radios, police departments should consider OTAP. The cost savings alone can be significant when more than several hundred radios are involved. Statewide, the number can be in the thousands. With the widespread use of OTAP among public safety agencies, a disaster involving a multiple-agency response could see P25 compatible radios loaded over the air with a profile, channel plan, group plan, and any added features that would aid radio communication among all personnel involved in the command-and-control operation.

Date Published: January 1, 2009