Wireless Audio – Is Digital Better? December 08, 2015

Wireless Audio – Is Digital Better?

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that anything digital is better. However, there are still thousands of agencies applying legacy analog equipment every day. In this article we’ll explore the different facets of wireless devices for covert surveillance and compare digital devices to analog devices.

Wireless Range
In general, digital devices experience the same potential range as analog devices. However, in challenging, noisy RF environments common to urban areas, digital technologies can experience greater range due to increased immunity to interference. One notable exception to this experience is spread spectrum technology which is often touted for its security, but given equal amounts of RF power range can be sometimes one-half or one-third of comparable digital and analog devices. The addition of obstruction seems to increase the performance divide between analog and digital spread spectrum.

Digital devices deliver an inherent level of security that makes them relatively free from interception from low level counter-surveillance. In contrast, analog transmissions are easily intercepted by use of commercially available police scanners. However, this weakness of analog does also bring the advantage of simultaneous monitoring of transmissions by multiple teams whereas most digital devices having matched transmitters and receivers, only one party can monitor transmissions.

Just based upon pricing alone, analog is no doubt the winner. For professional class devices, analog gear is typically factored in the hundreds of dollars whereas digital is in the thousands. However, when all the benefits of digital are considered, analog being the winner is put into doubt.
1. Is information security important to your missions?
2. Is longer run time important to you?
3. Would the ability to remotely enable/disable transmitters to avoid RF detection keep your team safe and the mission on track?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the price should not be the only criteria is choosing a wireless system.

Transmission Speed – Latency
Early generation digital units had noticeable, inherent transmission latency sometimes up to a one second of time. Obviously such a delay is unacceptable for missions that require any form of live monitoring for the purposes of UC/CI safety. Newer generation digital systems have no noticeable latency. The ever so slight delay is in the realm of milliseconds (one-millionth of a second) and for all practical purposes, the latency is naught. One notable exception to the trend of newer digital devices and their incredibly fast transmission speed are digital burst units. Digital burst units purposely delay the transmission from one-half a second up to thirty seconds in order to minimize the RF footprint for missions that require the pinnacle of security.

Bidirectional Communications
A frequent request of law enforcement and intelligence agencies is to remotely enable/disable the transmitter to avoid RF detection. With analog devices, this is possible but it requires two radios on both the transmit and receive side, making the devices large and difficult to conceal. For the most part, digital devices do not need additional radios. In reality, digital devices are sending a data stream…not an audio signal. This data stream can be used from a wide variety of task which includes remote enabling and disabling. More advance digital devices go further by allowing bi-directional audio transmission and remote configuration of power levels, frequency, encryption keys, etc….

Physical Size
Early digital units were quite a bit bigger than analog devices. However, over the past decade key components of digital devices have been miniaturized providing for an overall smaller package than analog devices while providing improved performance and added features.

Related to physical size of the devices themselves is the required power for operation. Digital devices have also become more efficient over the past decade, reducing the power requirement. Even with small batteries, operation time can remain the same or exceed that of comparable analog devices.

When all features, benefits and yes, cost are considered…digital devices are the best choice for all forms of covert law enforcement and intelligence activities. Today’s digital devices outperform analog in nearly every arena.

If you have any comments, questions, or even suggestions for future articles, please drop me a line.  To learn about MAXSUR digital audio devices, please click here

Thanks for reading,

Jake Lahmann

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