Enterprise Communications

We are located at the Port of Stockton in Building 217 Suite 142, Stockton, California. Our focus is on installing and maintaining the Rock Solid communications that our Public Safety customers require. We maintain a good stock of parts as well as complete systems utilizing the proven Motorola Quantar repeaters, Astrotac receivers, and Digitac comparators. These Digital P-25 and Analog conventional systems provide the most reliable and cost effective solutions available today. Give us a call at 209-390-4085 and lets chat.

Consulting services

Consulting services

I started installing and maintaining communications systems in 1970. There are pro's and con's for every type of system. One size never fits all. For the flat lands, higher frequencies work well. For the hills, lower frequencies work better. Interoperability is the current buzz word but it has different meanings to different people. The current trend is to move to network connectivity for communication systems. Maintenance costs for these new systems can be up to 5 (five) times the cost of your current system. These are just a few of the subjects that should be discussed prior to selecting an upgrade or deciding to replace your existing system. I enjoy talking to folks and sharing what I have learned over the last 40 years. Give me a call and lets chat.
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Installations

Installations

We have a bucket truck that has up to a 33 foot working height for those hard to reach jobs. For tower work up to 1000 feet our highly trained tower subcontractors work quickly and efficiently to safely install Microwave and Two way antenna systems meeting or exceeding Motorola's R56 standards. With over forty years of experience installing and maintaining electronic equipment from the Military to Public Safety agencies, we know how to do it right. We are happy to install new equipment that you are able to purchase directly from the manufacture as well as our refurbished equipment listed in the Equipment page above. Need something else, just ask us to find it. We have developed sources for just about anything electronic that you may need.
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Programming and repairs

Programming and repairs

Most of the current radios have 1000 or more channels available. Updating frequency's, PL's, NAC's and operating modes have become yearly if not quarterly tasks for most Public Safety agencies. Narrow banded radios need to be aligned more often to keep them transmitting and receiving at their best. We find that within about three years, these radios will drift out of tolerance and need to be aligned. Most of the subscribers (portables and mobiles), requiring major repairs are best serviced at the factory depot. It is quicker and generally less expensive to handle them in this way and you get the highest quality repairs. Just give us a call and we will pick up your radios, pack them properly, and ship them out for you. As soon as your freshly repaired units return we will drop them off to you, usually within 24 hours. This gives us an opportunity to chat with you about any other communications issues you may have questions about.
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Maintenance contracts

Maintenance contracts

Our maintenance customers have 24/7 access to my office and cell phone. Text messaging is a favorite for my regular customers. All fixed end equipment on contract will be cleaned and tested annually. Antenna systems will be inspected and tested with our Anritsu Site Master providing a complete system health check. Minor repairs of your mobiles and portables are generally handled on site. Repairs requiring dis-assembly are usually sent to the factory depot for the fastest turn around and highest quality repairs.
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The Evolution of Public Safety Communications

I became associated with two way radio systems now commonly refereed to as Land Mobile Radio (LMR) as far back as 1965 when I installed my first mobile radio.  It had vacuum tubes in it and required frequent tuning as the tubes aged and replacement of some of the tubes every year or two.  TV’s were the same and when I graduated from high school in 1967, going on to an Electronics Trade School made a lot of sense to a boy in rural America.

In the sixties, an Electronic Technician was expected to be able to read a tech manual and understand how all of the circuitry in any electronic device worked and then be able to trouble shoot it and fix it simply by tuning the circuit or replacing the bad components.  In trade school, we were trained on radio, television, facsimile,  telephone, radar, x-ray, and computer technology.  We had lecture sessions in the morning and hands on bench work with these devices in the afternoon.  By the end of school, we could pretty much fix anything that had electrons flowing through it with a schematic diagram in front of us and a few pieces of test equipment.

In 1969, I went into the Navy and they sent me to another two years of training on Navy radio and radar equipment.  When you are 5000 miles out to sea, there is no calling the man to fix something.  The ships ET shop repaired any electronic device on the ship.

After Vietnam, I mustered out in San Francisco and began working at a Motorola Service Center.  Forty years later, I am still servicing LMR systems.  Things have changed of course.  In the 1960’s electronic devices evolved from tubes to transistors.  This made the equipment more stable and the tuning and component replacements, slowed from monthly to semiannually.  In the 1970’s Electronic Technicians were graduating by the thousands from trade schools and the shops couldn’t get enough of them.  By the 1990’s the manufactures started making modular equipment like the Motorola Quantar.  It has 5 easily removable modules that make repairs simple.  You could just look at the lights on the front of the radio and see which module was not working.  Servicing became much easier since the technician didn’t need to trouble shoot down to the individual component, just one of the 5 modules and if he wasn’t sure, he could just swap out each one until it started working again.  This radio was so reliable and easily repaired that the life cycle went from an average of 10 years to over 20.  You can imagine what happened to recurring sales for Motorola.  For the non Public Safety folks, 90% of them have moved to Cell Phones.  At this point we run into the Economy of Scale problem.  With only 10% of the sales going to LMR devices, the manufactures were going out of business.

Today, there are no Electronic Trade schools turning out highly trained technicians.  The manufactures are selling equipment that don’t have replaceable modules and must be sent back to a factory depot for service.  Now when the manufacture wants more reoccurring sales, they simply stop servicing the equipment at the factory depots.   The pool of Electronic Technicians is disappearing rapidly as they reach retirement age and most of the systems purchased today for Police, Fire, and EMS agencies are selected by departments that don’t have the expertise to evaluate what the sales people are telling them .  The sales force will always try to sell the most proprietary, complex, and expensive systems they have.

The United States Congress saw the problem and came up with a fix.  This week, a 25 year contract was awarded to AT&T to build out a nation wide communications system for Public Safety.  The engineers at AT&T will select the equipment and build out the communication systems.  These new systems will be based on the existing LTE cellular systems that we use on our cell phones.  We can expect this system to evolve rapidly over the next few years.  Of course, with change, I expect a lot of push back from the old school folks that never like change.  Congress, though, controls the Grant Money.  When that gets redirected to First Net, funding for the LMR systems will dry up.

I am old school as well and have my own reservations, but I have done some testing and listen to the seminars and webinars pertaining to these developments.  There will be growing pains with some successes and failures, but the good thing is that the selection of systems and equipment is now in the hands of qualified engineers that will make informed decisions and avoid the pitfalls of proprietary equipment.

By 2020, we should see how well this is working.

 

Burnout of our best Electronic Technicians.

Education is the key to keeping up with the fast evolution of the Electronics industry.  I attended two factory schools this year on IP based systems to add to my 48 years of experience in the Two Way Radio field.  In chatting with my instructors, one on the east cost and one on the west cost, they both expressed the same desire to get out of their current jobs.  They had both been working in the communications industry for many years and had been heavily evolved in the installation and maintenance of their companies equipment.  That made them the obvious choice to teach the classes.

The adoption of IP connectivity has multiplied the work load by a factor of 10.  I compare it to a game called “Whack a Mole”.  As a network is a living thing with adds, moves, and changes happening daily, the system installation is never completed and therefore just when a technician gets the bugs worked out, something changes and the phone rings again with angry users.  Multiple this by years of sleep deprived night work, and interrupted family weekends, a good technician will eventually burn out.

This holds true with the Electronic technicians I talk to here locally as well.  If they are close to retirement age, they can tell you to the day, how much longer they will be working on IP based systems.  If they are younger, most are buying lottery tickets and exploring job opportunities that have nothing to do with electronics.  The kids just coming out of Computer Science classes are eager to dive into the challenges, but given a few years of working through the night trying to find obscure problems in the network, they age prematurely and their health declines at an accelerated rate.

There is an alternative.  The simple T-1 based systems can be maintained by any good Electronic Technician and since the signal paths are fixed and not changing every day, once the initial bugs are worked out, the system will remain stable and reliable for many years to come.

The key words here are “Keep it simple solutions” (KISS) for short.

 

Public Safety Communications and LTE

Land Mobile Radio (LMR) has dominated Public Safety communications since the 1940’s. It’s gone through a lot of changes that have improved the coverage and made the voice easier to understand over the background sounds. The one limiting factor is bandwidth. In the 1950’s we had 50 KHz channels that produced broadcast quality audio. In the 1960’s the FCC then changed the rules reducing the bandwidth to 25 KHz. This reduced the audio quality to what you might expect through a telephone. Then in 2013 the FCC again reduced the bandwidth to 12.5 KHz. 6.25 KHz systems are being built by some agencies now and the FCC may make that mandatory at some point in the future although there is a lot of push back from many agencies.

These reductions in bandwidth allow more channels to be available for voice traffic, but greatly limit data throughput and coverage area.

Cellular phone systems continue to improve both in coverage and bandwidth capabilities. With LTE now available, and the Cellular carriers continued improvements in their site reliability, we now have Apps that out preform even the most expensive and robust LMR systems.

Our “Old School” thinking that LMR was the primary communications mode with Cellular being a supplementary addition is now changing. I have included a clip of an App that is now in use in San Joaquin county called Active 911. First Net is the Feds idea of a Nation wide communications system. They are slowly ( what else would you expect from the Feds) coming to the conclusion that merging their efforts with existing Cellular carriers is the only practical way of getting the infrastructure built. Now the Cellular company’s are testing the waters for providing P-25 LMR coverage from their Cell sites for the voice component of Public Safety systems.

At the rate of change we are seeing these days, I would expect LTE systems to become the Primary means of dispatching calls with supplementary LMR radio systems providing on scene voice communications and back up alerting. This is in place now in many agencies and will become the norm over the next few years.

Best Practices for Public Safety sites.

Remote repeater sites must be built to endure harsh environmental incidents such as storms, earthquakes, lightning strikes, power disruptions, heat, cold, driving rain, ice storms, high winds, etc.

In my 45 years of building and repairing these sites, I have come up with a few “Best Practices” rules.

1.  Isolate your equipment from the PG&E power lines.  A 60,000 volt power surge does some really bad things to your radio equipment when your power line is hit by lightning.  Most Public Safety grade radio equipment made these days can be powered directly by 12, 24, or 48 volt DC sources.  A battery bank charged by multiple heavy duty chargers or rectifiers has proven to be a reliable way to eliminate those surges.  Even very close lightning strikes usually don’t take out all of the rectifiers.  I like to see a minimum of 3 and preferably more chargers capable of supplying enough current to keep the site up.  This gives us the “redundancy” we need to keep the site up when bad things happen.

2.  Never substitute a UPS for the battery bank.  While they can provide back up power during power disruptions, those UPS systems cannot withstand a lightning strike, high temperatures or wet environments.  The life span for a UPS is generally less than 25% of a good 48 volt battery plant.

3.  Generators have historically been the logical choice for extended power outage protection, but due to a number of factors such as the California Air Resources Board restrictions, the need for regular maintenance, weekly testing, and fuel delivery issues, these devices are now being replaced by Fuel Cell power generators.  They can be installed inside the equipment shelter and the price for a comparable Fuel Cell generator is coming down. When the fuel delivery and maintenance issues are factored in, they become a preferred alternative.

Land Mobile Radio (LMR) and how it works

I found this Video a few days ago on YouTube. It looks like an old Motorola training video. The video is a bit fuzzy and the sound is a little low but the content is excellent. About an hour long, it explains how Two Way radio systems work and the advantages and disadvantages of the four frequency bands, Lo Band (20-40 MHz), Hi Band (150-160 MHz), UHF (450-470 MHz), and (700-800 MHz).

Get a fresh cup of coffee and enjoy the video.