Design a Radio System with Open IP

Not all radio IP architecture is the same. Using open IP protocols make your radio system more resilient than any other system out there, even in the face of multiple failures.

IP is the underlying technology for all forms of modern communication that are now part of our everyday lives. Whether we are talking about applications on your 4G cell phone, such as instant messaging, or video conferencing at home or at work, almost everything in telecommunications today runs over IP at some point.

However, it is open IP protocols, those that adhere to open standards, which are delivering the incredible advances and capabilities for radio systems to communicate and operate.

A land mobile radio (LMR) system built on open IP architecture, like Airbus DS Communications VESTA® Radio solution, uses standard protocols and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment to connect elements of the radio system – from the dispatch consoles through the radio network and right up to the repeaters. As a result, customers gain operational efficiencies and improved network survivability even in the worst of conditions.

To help you understand this smarter way to keep all our communities safe and designing it with an open mind, let’s do a high-level walk-through of how to design a radio system using open IP. We’ll start with network survivability.

Network Survivability

An open IP architecture has a dramatic effect on network survivability because it increases your level of protection with regards to system reliability and resiliency. System reliability is the ability of a system to avoid a failure, while system resiliency addresses a system’s ability to recover from a failure quickly so that users of the network are not impacted.

System Reliability

In the old days, we relied on a centralized system, where all functions were in one location causing failure of that centralized equipment to result in a large system failure. IP changes that and allows for those functions to be “distributed” across different pieces of equipment to create a “distributed architecture.” If a piece of equipment fails, only a small piece of functionality is lost, not the entire system, meaning you have taken an important step in increasing your system’s reliability.

Now, to enhance the distributed architecture, we add redundancy. We do that by duplicating key pieces of equipment and then connecting them over the IP network so that a duplicate piece of equipment can take over if the other fails. Then, we separate those redundant pieces of equipment in different locations across the IP network to create an incredibly reliable solution.

Once again, open IP networking standards is the key to making all of this possible.

Next, let’s address system resiliency.

System Resiliency

Resiliency speaks to the ability of a network to continue to operate in the face of repeated failures. This is also known as fault tolerance and is one of the most powerful capabilities of open IP networks with a distributed architecture.

In a properly designed network, even if a primary link between network locations goes down, the adaptive routing capabilities of open IP standard protocols make it possible to reroute packets via a different path at lightning speeds. This means, for example, if a router fails in one part of the network, the packets are quickly and automatically rerouted to the destination through another path. So the network stays up, even in the face of multiple failures.

That’s why we say an open IP architecture adds critical resiliency to a radio network. By designing a distributed and redundant system architecture you avoid single points of failure. And with the ability to ‘self-heal’ and dynamically reroute information, you can ensure a failure does not prevent information from reaching its destination.

Let’s take it to another level.


Virtualization is an important component of open IP architecture and adds yet another layer of protection to the network beyond standard redundancy. When coupled with IP networking, virtualization allows for dynamic redistribution of network functionality in the face of an unavoidable failure. Airbus DS Communications includes virtualization in how we configure both our P25 radio and 9-1-1 systems.

Here is how it works:

Virtualization redistributes system functions among the network’s available servers, allowing you to keep the network going for as long as possible using its remaining resources. Additionally, you can restore the network using whatever usable resources are available.

Do you remember the movie Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks? There is a scene where the air supply system failed and then the back-up system failed, and they were going to run out of air. However, they restored the air supply by repurposing some equipment in the Apollo module.

Similarly, with virtualization, the applications providing your network functionality can exist on any available server. This means that, in a disaster scenario where system functionality is no longer available, you can recover by repurposing other servers to run the applications the network requires.

Now, for the icing on the cake…

The Veneer of IP vs. Native IP

As we said earlier, not everyone configures their radio network like we have been describing, but once you know what to look for it’s easy to understand the difference.

The diagram above depicts what we mean by the veneer or façade of IP. In this type of architecture, an IP Gateway is used to convert data from open IP to a proprietary network backbone, or it may use routers and switches in non-standard configurations or with proprietary extensions. These customized solutions are more costly to buy and to maintain. With an open IP architecture there are no proprietary gateways or switches. Instead you use standard off-the-shelf routers and switches which can be configured and used for their specific environment. As a result, you get a system that is reliable, highly available and doesn’t have to involve additional cost or complexity. There is no proprietary content.

At Airbus DS Communications, we design our radio systems like the graphic on the right – with a native IP architecture. We use commercial off-the-shelf equipment, with no proprietary equipment necessary in our network.

How we protect the radio system against failures and how we handle breakdowns is very different from other solution providers. Our solutions go the extra mile to protect the integrity of the system in case of a failure. Here is what we mean:

  • In any LMR system, there is a hierarchy of system controllers over the entire system, a site controller over the sites, and repeaters on the sites. When all components are operational, full functionality and connectivity is present within the system as well as within external networks and dispatch consoles.
  • When there is a in a breakdown, our solution handles failures at each level of the hierarchy by simply dropping the functionality down to the next lower level ensuring coverage and dispatch capabilities are not lost.
  • If the system controller (and its backup) fails, the site controllers assume the responsibility for keeping the system operational with full coverage and dispatch capabilities.
  • Likewise, if the site controller (and its backup) fails, the repeaters stay in communication and take over to maintain coverage and dispatch capabilities while transitioning into failsoft operation.

In comparison, other solutions would have disconnected after losing the first layer of the hierarchy. Bottom line, with the VESTA Radio solution, each level of the hierarchy is throwing a life line to the layer below it. System survivability is taken to the level where your network can sustain multiple failures and still maintain radio coverage and dispatch communications. This is a critically important capability in helping you to protect your communities.

At Airbus DS Communications, we promise our customers that we’ll always Design WITH AN OPEN MIND to provide you the benefit of freedom of choice and to keep you from being locked into a proprietary system.

What to Look for in Your Radio System Design

Many Public Safety agencies are becoming more aware of the benefits of open IP architecture and the difference between the veneer of IP and native IP. To help you have the benefits of open IP networking, look for these three things when designing a radio system:

  • Ensure the system supports open IP industry standards that use off-the-shelf IP components, without special programming or configuration, as well as web-based management tools.
  • Make sure the system takes advantage of fault tolerance and recovery capabilities that are native to open-standard IP networks to enhance system resiliency.
  • Ensure the network has distributed architecture utilizing geo-redundancy to avoid single points of failure where the loss of one site or even one component could take the entire system off the air.

One other important point

There is a frequent misconception around the ability of a common IP network to carry a combination of traffic such as radio, 9-1-1 and emergency notification applications. Using standard routers, switches and open IP protocol standards, agencies can indeed use one common IP network to carry a combination of traffic in a reliable way.

For more information, read the article in this CRITICAL MATTERS® edition on the City of Richardson and how moving public safety and governmental applications onto a common IP backbone is allowing them to save hundreds of thousands of dollars while still providing top-rate service and connectivity. In short, we know it’s possible because we are doing it.

The power and operating efficiencies of open IP protocols are truly remarkable. IP is a huge enabler for not only efficiency, but for reliability, resiliency and future applications we may not have even considered yet.

To learn more about the benefit of open IP architecture, contact us at