Scanning, a thing of the past?

For several years now there have been folks in the scanning community who have claimed ‘scanning is dead’, but just as there have been those who believe it was dead there have been those claiming otherwise.

Without a doubt during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s a very large portion of scanner owners were those who enjoyed listening to Police, Fire and Ambulance related transmissions.

Within Australia many of the state’s Police Forces have either already moved, or are in the process of moving, to not only digital communication systems but those that are capable of the dreaded encryption.

As a result scanner sales in Australia appear to have declined to a point where many of those businesses that once carried such items no longer do so.

In fairness to the above observation it should also be noted that two of the major retailers who once sold such items have had a change of business direction. One being Tandy Electronics who were purchased by the Woolworths group in 2001 and later absorbed in to Woolworths Dick Smith Electronics business operations, itself being purchased outright from its namesake by Woolworths in 1982. Dick Smith Electronics which was once considered ‘a must visit’ for hobbyists has decimated its hobby radio electronics section. (That’s a whole other issue!)

Although they’ve never actually said so outright many thought that Uniden planned on quitting the scanner market altogether in the Australia & New Zealand region.

Without a doubt most of the cries regarding the death of scanning has come about as a result of various federal and state emergency and law enforcement agencies move to more secure radio systems. With the addition of encryption these are unable to be monitored in the traditional sense.

I have to admit initially I would be one to quickly debunk anyone who would claim scanning was dead. When the Victoria Police moved to the MMR Network and with it the ability to encrypt their talk-groups I simply continued to monitor other services and systems. There was still a huge amount to listen in on and enjoy.

However nowadays I am a little slower to debunk.

My reasoning for this is that as more and more agencies move to more secure systems, as technological advances become less expensive to implement or replace existing systems there has indeed become less and less to monitor. It is now not only emergency services and law bodies that are accessing such technologies, but private industry as well.

In Melbourne in recent years we’ve since the emergence of the Motorola P25 MMR Network for the emergency services in Melbourne Metropolitan and Geelong areas and we’ve also seen several Federal agencies that operate in Melbourne move to encrypted P25 systems.

Now MotoTRBO, Kenwood’s NXDN and TETRA systems have also become more prevalent and many of the existing Motorola Type II Trunking systems converted or modified. As such many are no longer able to be monitored with any scanners currently available on the market.

The complexities of the MMR Network adopted by a large part of Melbourne’s emergency services saw a large amount of the long time scanner users simply give up on trying to understand the system and how to successfully monitor those TGID’s that were un-encrypted.

Even if they did purchase a capable scanner on the ever shrinking Australia scanner market they didn’t really understand the system and how it worked. Instead they relied on those who could understand or had adapted to set up their purchase.

The same thing had happened prior with the 800MHz Trunking boom with many failing to grasp and understand initially how it worked and as such were more likely to listen in to the old reliable VKC, VKN8, VicFire and 3WX for their radio communications fix.

Gone were the days of simply punching in up to 6 digits and away you went. Now there was trunking, conversations ending and jumping to another frequency, data control channels, TGID’s, logical channel numbers and the list goes on.

As a long time scanner user it appeared that each time new protocols and possibilities were introduced the hobby would lose something in both the ability to monitor and those who chose to partake in the hobby.

The developments that have been made in the communications scene seem to far outweigh those made in the commercial scanner market to enable the ability to monitor.

Whilst at this stage there are still systems to monitor I can’t help but look back at what we no longer can monitor and have to ask myself just how much time does this hobby have if some serious developments are not made?

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