If man made it, it will fail.
Even the most robust electronic systems will eventually fail. Planning will determine what happens when it does. If you operate in a Reactive atmosphere, then this will become an emergency. A good example of this is when all of your radio traffic is funneled through a single site. Over the years I have seen this many times. PG&E failure, back up generator failure, UPS battery failure, Air conditioner failure, roof leaks, vandalism, storm damage. Note, none of these failures are caused by the radio equipment failing itself, but due to external factors the site does go down and can be down for hours, days, or weeks. Panic sets in when all communications are down and emergency measures are taken that can be risky to the equipment by trying to run back up generators that don’t have good voltage regulation, or technicians are asked to work in unsafe conditions to replace damaged antenna’s. If you don’t keep critical spare parts such as antennas, cable, connectors, back up radio’s, or connectivity parts on hand, extended down time can be expected.
A Proactive approach will factor in all of the above in the design of a Public Safety communications system. Redundancy is the key to planning for the day you are faced with a site failure. Lets say you have three channels in your organization. A proactive approach would be to use three transmitter sites located around your coverage area, utilizing independent connectivity such as point to point microwave with back up T-1’s through the phone company if practical. These sites should have back up generators, and battery back up to carry the system during the start up period or should the generator fail to start, for a period of time that would give a technician time to respond to the site. With this approach, the failure just requires a push of a button to move over to a working site and a routine call for repairs. Public Safety communications continue in a controlled environment.
Proactive or Reactive. It is your choice.
In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s most manufactures were making equipment that required frequent alignments and repairs to keep radio systems working properly. The technical manuals were complete with circuit diagrams and part numbers so that most any electronic technician could repair their equipment. Competing service shops were encouraged to support the manufactures sales. By the mid 90’s the manufactures were able to produce some very reliable equipment reducing the need for many local service shops. Motorola closed all of their company owned service centers and set up partnerships with independently owned shops.
By the turn of the century a new realization set in. The equipment was too good. The Quantar series for example, was advertised to average ten years “mean time between failures” or six sigma as they called it. Many of these radios have been in service for over 15 years now and will likely last another 15 years. Reoccurring sales were dropping and service contract revenue was dropping at the repair centers.
The solution for Motorola and a growing number of manufactures was to move to systems that would require replacements within just a few years and eliminate competition from independent service shops by removing all circuit diagrams and parts list from their service manuals. The manufactures could now control prices by controlling which shops were allowed to sell and service the equipment. To further control the competition, Motorola began selling proprietary systems that would not directly interface with any other manufactures equipment. Once you purchased a core piece of their equipment, you were locked into a Sole Source procurement process. The factory repair depot’s profit margins ballooned as well as their protected service shop partners. When the sales numbers get low, the depot can simply stop repairing your model of radio requiring you to buy a new replacement.
Many agencies are comfortable dealing with a well known company that has a reputation for providing reliable equipment as long as the grant money covers the higher prices. They are less comfortable when the reality sets in that they are locked into maintenance contracts that are controlled by the manufactures and are typically three to five times higher than the open source systems they replaced. The manufacture determines which partner shops are allowed to submit a quote for sales and service in a designated service area. No competition is allowed.
Many of the larger State and County self maintained shops prefer to build open source communication systems that allow the flexibility to use competing manufactures equipment as new and more innovative equipment becomes available. Motorola has the LEX 700 out now and a new model the LEX L10 coming out soon. Harris has their RPC-200 as well as the RF-3590 LTE Ruggedized Android tablet. These use Band 14 First Net capabilities as well as existing cellular carriers. This is the future of Public Safety communications. By keeping a back up “KISS” system for those rare times that cellular goes down, you can have the best of both worlds.
The different military services have purchased equipment from many different manufactures and are able to operate across all of the systems by utilizing open source wire line and IP connectivity.
We here at Enterprise Communications work with our customers, helping them find the most appropriate equipment for their needs, and then select a service plan that will fit their budget. As an independent service provider, we are able to give unbiased recommendations for your consideration. Give us a call and we will be happy to help.
Motorola Inc. made a highly reliable Public Safety Grade base station, the Quantar which is the current backbone of the vast majority of Police and Fire departments across the nation. The Astrotac receivers, Digitac and Astrotac 3000 comparators give these systems their rock solid reliability. Enterprise Communications still installs and upgrades these systems to enable their continued use for many years to come. They represent the “Keep it Simple Solution” for Public Safety. Clear, reliable communications at a fraction of the cost of the new Motorola Solutions Inc. proprietary systems.
Over the next few years Public Safety communications will be transitioning to the LTE systems for more and more of their traffic. The wider bandwidth and higher speeds available allow new Public Safety Apps that are available now for your cell phones to show responding units on a map that everyone can see. Push to talk over LTE is here now and as the standards are published, expected within a year, you will see equipment becoming available from many manufactures at cell phone prices giving Public Safety agencies the capabilities of Smart Phones with the improved reliability promised by First Net.
The IT world deals in absolutes, ones and zeros. RF propagation depends on a whole host of variables. Different frequencies have different characteristics. Depending on the height of the ionosphere at any given time and the frequency being used it is possible for a signal to travel all the way around the world and be heard as an echo at the sending site. As we go up in frequency, the amount of propagation bending around obstacles lessens to the point that at UHF the signal doesn’t bend at all and the surrounding buildings, trees, and hills will determine how far the signal will go. Electrical noise affects some frequencies more than others. Precipitation will affect the size of the coverage area as the snow flakes and water droplets absorb RF energy. These are just some of the factors used in designing a radio system that will meet your needs.
Both the IT and RF technicians must go through years of training and on the job experience to become proficient in their fields, but the training is vastly different and it is rare to find a technician that is proficient in both fields.
It is common practice for IT departments to be given the task of managing and upgrading two way radio systems. This is like asking a psychiatrist to preform brain surgery. Many city’s, county’s and states have built successful radio systems. The key is bringing in qualified radio technicians to supplement the IT staff.
The initial cost “grant funds” needed for the new network based systems tend to be several times higher and yearly maintenance cost “operating funds” are typically three to five times higher than the hard wired systems they replace. Life-cycles of the network vs. hardwired systems is one of those “devils are in the details” issues that need to be explored. Replacement and upgrade funding will probably need to be significantly increased to fit the realities of the new disposable system components.
The security aspect of networks are always a gotcha. As with encryption, any network can be hacked. It’s just a matter of how much effort someone is willing to expend to break through or around the firewalls. I recently helped install a system at a University. The IT manager in charge of the campus network told me that even with the latest firewall security available, nothing could keep a Computer Science student with plenty of time on their hands from finding a way around it.
Lets go over the options and see what best fits your situation. If you have sufficient funds and a desire to build a cutting edge radio system, I can help you understand exactly what you are signing up for. If your budget is a little more modest but you still need a reliable radio system, I have a number of solutions available for you to chose from. Just give me a call and lets chat a bit.
Interoperability is a word that must be included in any application for grant funds from the Federal government today. The theory put forth is that any Public Safety agency needs to be able to talk to any other Public Safety agency in an emergency. This came about from Catrina and the 9/11 attacks.
Again, the devil is in the details. Imagine if you will, a radio system that would connect four or five Public Safety agencies together on one channel in an incident like the plane crash at SFO a few months ago. It would be like listening to the CB in an LA traffic jam.
When I talk to the Police and Fire Chiefs, I get a different take on Interoperability. They want the ability to hear traffic on other channels to keep abreast of other responding agencies, but they do not want everyone on their channel. The coordination between Police, Fire, Ambulance, and OES agencies are the responsibilities of the dispatch centers. They have the resources to handle this part of the response more efficiently.
Bottom line here is that an Incident Commander wants to be able to hear the progress of other agencies responding to his emergency, but does not want them interfering with radio traffic on his channel. By keeping traffic on their own channels you avoid any one channel or talk group from overload and the individual responders can focus on their jobs and not get distracted by radio traffic that doesn’t directly involve them. Typically this is done by using additional subscriber radios switched to the appropriate frequency’s. As most mobile and portable radio’s today, are capable of many channels, it is a simple and inexpensive solution to interoperability.
So now we can look at your existing radio systems and see if you have the ability to do this. If not, lets see what is required.