Counties must upgrade radio systems

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tipster67

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This is a c/p from The Wichita Eagle.... Just thought I would share...

Counties must upgrade radio systems

BY Conor Shine
The Wichita Eagle

Required changes to emergency communications systems mean some Kansas counties will have to make expensive upgrades while other counties will pay very little.

Sedgwick County, for example, estimates it may cost about $25 million to upgrade its system, while Harvey County may spend about $5,000.

A Federal Communications Commission ruling in 1999 mandated that all public radio communication systems — used mostly by police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel — switch to narrowband technology beginning in 2013.

Airwaves are used to carry many types of signals, including television broadcasts, cell phone signals, wireless Internet signals and radio waves. Currently, counties' radio communication systems operate on wideband frequencies. Switching to narrowband technology allows more users on the band at one time, meaning the airwaves are used more efficiently, FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said.

Operating on a narrowband frequency requires different technology than a wideband frequency does. While most radio technology manufactured in the last 10 years can operate on both frequencies, some counties in Kansas still have older receivers or radio towers that will need to be replaced before the 2013 transition.

The majority of Butler County's public radio system infrastructure is 25 years old, which is too outdated to accommodate the switch to narrowband.

Upgrading the system will cost the county about $12.9 million. In November, voters passed a 1/4-cent sales tax increase to help fund improvements to the system.

Chris Davis, the county's director of emergency communications, said the county already had been planning to upgrade its aging communications system, but the FCC deadline sped up the process.

The county is still in the engineering phase. In addition to new radio units for emergency personnel, two new radio towers will have to be constructed, Davis said. The upgrades should be completed by October 2012 and will increase radio coverage to 95 percent of the county.

Davis did not know the exact percentage of the county that is covered by the current radio system but said it was "significantly less" than what it will be in 2012.

In Sedgwick County, where the public communications system supports about 6,000 users compared with Butler County's estimated 800, upgrades will cost about $25 million. Director of emergency communications Diane Gage said that is a rough estimate because officials are still figuring out what needs to be replaced and upgraded.

No plan has been put in place for financing the upgrades — Gage said her department needs to get a more exact cost before meeting with the county's finance department — but the upgrades could be paid for in part by 911 telephone fees.

Gage said the county's aging system was getting to the point where it needed to be replaced anyway, and upgrading infrastructure to accommodate the switch to narrowband will also improve radio coverage.

The cost to ensure Cowley County's public radio communications system is ready for the switch to narrowband will be significantly less than in Sedgwick or Butler counties.

Because most of Cowley County's radio units are already compatible with narrowband, the only major upgrades will be to existing towers. Director of emergency management Brian Stone estimated the cost to will be no more than $35,000.

Stone said the county has been using federal grant money received over the past few years to purchase new narrowband-compatible radio units and started an inventory earlier this year to identify any remaining areas or units that need to be upgraded or replaced.

Harvey County is in a similar situation. Most of its radio units were bought in the last 10 years, meaning they support both wideband and narrowband frequencies. Director of communications Courtney Becker estimated the county would have to spend about $5,000 more to ensure compatibility.
 

KAA951

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When will the media get a clue?

As usual, the media confuse narrowbanding of radio frequencies with upgrade / replacement of aging radio systems. Narrowbanding only effects VHF-High Band (50-174 MHz) and UHF Band (421-512 MHz) frequencies. The replacement of the Sedgwick County / Wichita 800 MHz system has nothing to do with narrowbanding- though they will have to make some changes in other frequencies they use.

Butler County chose to migrate to the state 800 MHz system, no one forced them to do so. They could have (for relatively little cost like Harvey County) kept their current UHF radio system, replacing some of their older transmitters and radios. While I think it would be great to have all emergency services in Kansas on the same band, I don't like it when we sell these projects by misleading the public.

The issue for Sedgwick County (not to mention Shawnee County, Douglas County and Wyandotte County) is that their Type II Motorola 800 systems are starting to show their age. Motorola has announced they are not going to support Type II systems anymore and spare parts are hard to come by. In addition, newer P-25 systems are more expensive, as they require (roughly) double the number of transmitter sites to cover the same territory covered by the existing analog systems (e.g. the new P-25 systems in Johnson and Leavenworth counties).
 

nec911

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Good post there

It is not only the media, it is some of our public officials who don't understand that difference. There are several sources on the internet I could point the media to so that they don't continue to distort the truth. I am working on narrowbanding this week at work and there is alot of misinformation out there.
 

firefive76

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We'll probably be sticking with UHF. Everything in the county here is UHF, and since there is no state tower in the county, the digital doesn't cover the best. Most of our equipment is narrowband capable. Also, some of the digital "features" are not well liked here.
 

dgruver911

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Newton, KS
Not switching to Digital/800

Same with Harvey County. We're staying on VHF. No state towers in the County, very spotty coverage, and we have no desire to build another tower (actually it would take at least 2 more) after our first go-around. We experimented with digital VHF portables and found they couldn't talk 3 blocks compared to a mile or more in town in analog mode. So we'll stay right where we are. There's no way we could come up with the estimated $6m for infrastructure, plus the cost to replace over 500 radios at $2000-$3000 each that each department would have to foot.
 
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