A little-known startup company called Orion Labs has developed a product called Orion Onyx that will help set the standard for future public-safety radio communication. Under the leadership of Jesse Robbins, Orion Labs is poised to be a leader in police, fire and emergency medical radio communication even though the company’s initial focus is on a product for consumers that costs less than $100.

Watch the video below to see how the product works.  I have been experimenting with Onyx devices for a few days and confirm they work as advertised.

The Orion Onyx has three major components.

1. The device you talk and listen through is a small round gadget that can be clipped to your shirt lapel. It’s a bluetooth speakerphone with a push-to-talk button and it works with software installed on a smartphone. The audio quality is crisp and clear. This device retails for $99.00. onbeeponyx2-100528889-large
2. An Orion Onyx software application is installed on your Apple iPhone or Android smartphone.  It manages the Bluetooth connection to the Onyx hardware and an IP connection to an Orion Onyx server. Think of it as a push-to-talk app using Voice over IP (VoIP) to a central server.  The app also displays the location of the users who are in talk groups that you create.
3. Orion Labs operate publicly accessible servers which the user’s app connects to.  The server(s) receive transmissions from subscriber devices and distributes the audio messages to users who are subscribed to the talk group defined by the user. Authentication information and audio are encrypted. onyx-copy

The Orion Onyx should be viewed as a proof of concept.  It clearly demonstrates the capability of push-to-talk (PTT) voice over broadband, however it is not yet suitable to replace mission-critical public-safety radio systems. I think we will see public-safety grade hardware and software for PTT voice over broadband very soon.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE)VoLTE will become a popular term in the not-too-distant future.  LTE is Long Term Evolution and describes the most popular 4G technology used by cellular telephones. I’m not sure if the Orion Onyx uses the true VoLTE protocol, or something similar.  In either event, Orion Labs is delivering a product that yields results very similar to what VoLTE push-to-talk promises.

Motorola Solutions Inc. (MSI) is for sale – Numerous articles in the trade press recently reported that Motorola is for sale. The company has been selling off real estate and other assets during recent years in an effort to stay afloat.  Commodity priced VoLTE radio communications equipment, such as the Onyx, will be the final nail in its coffin.  I predict ridiculously high-priced P25 digital trunked radios made by MSI and others will quickly become obsolete when comparatively inexpensive VoLTE products designed for use by first responders become available.

P25 digital trunked radio systems are based on obsolete, deficient circuit-switched technology.  Such systems are incredibly expensive to deploy and maintain, and the dominant manufacturers have introduced proprietary variants to a weakly defined standard in an effort to control the marketplace by preventing competition. Voice-over-broadband technology can now be demonstrated as the basis for next generation police, fire and emergency medical radio systems. Let’s look to the future and hasten the obsolecense of old digital protocols such as P25.

Advice for UHF T-band licensees – Thousands of first responders depend on extremely reliable, affordable radio systems that operate in the UHF T-band (470-512 MHz), primarily in the Country’s largest metropolitan areas. In 2012 Congress took action to take this radio spectrum away from public safety service by auctioning it to the highest bidder.  The sunset date for use of these frequencies is in 2023.

Let’s encourage our elected officials to extend the sunset date until voice over broadband, such as VoLTE, has matured to a point where inexpensive public-safety grade equipment based on open standards is available.