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Thread: Communications 2013

  1. #1
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    Default Communications 2013

    So, we are all aware of the narrow banding requirement for 2013. Around here this has prompted a lot of different reactions and plans to be put in place.

    At work, we will be narrow banding our fairly current Kenwood VHF system for now, and in a year or two we will be upgrading to 800mHz radios and jumping on the county wide 800mHz system the Sheriff's Office so graciously funded.

    With my volunteer department, we will be purchasing all new radios that are digital capable and staying on narrow banded VHF for now. We want to be able to keep our two-tone paging capabilities as long as possible, and we truely don't need the digital system right now. This will also allow us to narrow band and use the other VHF portables we have now. We will also still be able to talk to and from with our main mutual aid partner until the go 800mHz (see above).

    Two other neighboring departments are going full digital in 2013.

    So, as you can see, we have a lot of different things going on, and once it is all said and done some will be able to talk to some, others to a few and some to none.

    What is everyone else planning? Thoughts on digital? We are a 2.5 square mile city department that relies on two-tone paging to alert volunteers. VHF is the way for us right now.
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    Stayed with vhf county wide, not digital, been narrow band for months now.

    Cons...paging is not as clear as it used to be, far more ghost pages than ever before.

    Other than that we haven't noticed any differences that affect operations.
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    We went narrow band in June so as to have time to work out the bugs. Still working on them. My department covers approximatley 5 square miles.

    Pros - haven't found one yet, unless you count lining the pockets of the company we hired to install the system.

    Cons - missed pages - nothing at all transmitted; radios receiving the voice/page tones but the pagers not; voice and no tones, tones and no voice; unable to clearly communicate via portable to portable on the fireground, even though your guy is 50 feet from you standing outside the building; garbled radio traffic; soft voices, even with the volume at max. I don't have enough space to put down the struggles we've been going through.

    We switched over to Vertex Standard radios from the Motorolas we had. Partially in that most of our Motorolas weren't capable of being switched to narrow band, the rest in that Vertex got the bid in our AFG grant for new radios. The portables I'm growing to like, the mobiles are junk in my opinion. The radio committee we formed had selected Kenwoods but that's an even longer story.

    We have the IAmResponding program also and rely on it more than our pagers now.

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    We're VHF Low (46 Mhz) so narrowbanding doesn't affect our day-to-day operations. Paging is simulcast over both the low band dispatch channel and a vhf frequency, so paging results vary based on whether a department is still using the low band for their pagers or has changed to high. The high band side hasn't been cut over to narrowband yet, so no idea how that will turn out.

    The sheriff recently cut their system over to narrowband (they simply programmed a channel in their radios to be NB on the existing frequency, then at a planned time, changed channels). By and large I'm picking them up OK on the scanner, although from time to time I'm getting trash - probably due to local interference.

    The inability to communicate portable-to-portable (ie, on the fireground) is likely due to trying to use the repeater for on-scene operations. Bottom line is that if you can't hit the repeater, you're not talking.

    That's why anyone designing a system that uses repeaters (either conventional or trunked, analog or digital) needs to also acquire/establish several frequencies to be used simplex (ie, the old fashioned way) for fireground ops. While the vocoders for digital systems are being improved, it was for a while recommended that such frequencies be used in analog mode due to the inability of digital systems to deal with background noises (like saws).

    Yes, that does mean that the IC/staff needs two radios (or more) in order to monitor both the system channels and the fireground channels. It might also compromise some of the emergency functions of the radios, although that can be dealt with.

    On the OP's comment about losing paging - most systems I know of that have gone trunked have retained a conventional channel (oftimes their old dispatch frequency) which is cross-patched to the dispatch talkgroup specifically for paging.

    While our county does provide text on dispatch, they will not guarantee its operation. Something as simple and relatively common as a cut fiber-optic line could render that option inoperative. Too, our system relies on the county's email server. If that's down for maintenance or a failure, so is the text paging (and Iamresponding, et al).
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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRider245 View Post
    With my volunteer department, we will be purchasing all new radios that are digital capable and staying on narrow banded VHF for now. We want to be able to keep our two-tone paging capabilities as long as possible, and we truely don't need the digital system right now. This will also allow us to narrow band and use the other VHF portables we have now. We will also still be able to talk to and from with our main mutual aid partner until the go 800mHz (see above).

    Two other neighboring departments are going full digital in 2013.

    So, as you can see, we have a lot of different things going on, and once it is all said and done some will be able to talk to some, others to a few and some to none.

    What is everyone else planning? Thoughts on digital? We are a 2.5 square mile city department that relies on two-tone paging to alert volunteers. VHF is the way for us right now.
    Understand - when you go narrowband, you will see a 3db loss in coverage. It is what it is, it will be there, if you are using the same antenna heights, locations, etc.

    Because the recovered audio is higher with digital, you should see that 3 db loss returned - in a properly set up system.

    Most of the p25 repeaters and radios are capable of what is called "dual mode" where the analog and digital radios can co-exist on the same frequency. You could set up the digital in dual mode, continue to use analog for your paging, your pagers would work, then after the page goes out your radio users can handle the response in digital.

    Benefits - your pagers and analog recievers will work on pageout.

    Cons - those pages will still see the 3db loss as will any analog traffic.

    By digital, I assume you are talking about P25 and not one of the other formats such as DMR/TRBO or NXDN/IDAS.

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    To reiterate a couple of things mentioned.

    In almost all cases you should NEVER rely on a repeater system for fireground communications. 911, regional dispatch, the Chief sitting in his office, have NO need to listen to the fireground. They may feel they do, you may feel they do, but simply put, with good leadership at the scene, they don't need to hear it. If you MUST give them access, keep everyone on simplex and put up a crossband repeater back to dispatch.

    If you are a Chief that feels the need to listen to everything, get better people. If you are someone else that feels the Chief needs to listen to everything - cut the apron strings.

    And analog remains the best for fireground.


    If you went simply from wide band to narrow band, and you are having a host of problems, then you either have equipment or design problems. Properly installed, working equipment should give you about the same performance, bearing in mind the 3db loss. Scanners will have an issue with the narrowbanding, causing a volume issue.

    Finally, 5 square miles coverage? if a basic repeater is not giving you amazing coverage then you have a 99% probability of equipment issues, or a MAJOR design flaw. (Yes, we can use this repeater antenna buried 20 feet below main street)
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    we are simillar to GT......we moved onto a neighboring county's 800 and LOVE IT. It was pricey but we were on a VHF High simplexs sytem that was horrible. We still have the VHF for our pagers only and for our surrounding departments who didnt get on the 800. It is kinda of a mess but the kinks are worked out. This is quite the Readers Digest of things do if you all need more info PM me.
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    I should have clarified - we run repeaters for dispatching our calls and in our response to the incident. Once on scene, we switch to a "talk around" channel that bypasses the repeater.

    We're still having issues, repeater or not. Today the radio traffic was horrible.

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    Are you on your own system or do you share Burlingtons?

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    Per Radioreference.com, there's:

    Des Moines County fire dispatch (154.190, simplex with PL)
    Burlington fire dispatch (154.430 out, 150.775 in, with PL)
    Burlington "Fire Indoor Alerting" (155.070) - unknown what that could be

    No fireground channels are listed for either agency. No fire frequencies are listed at all for West Burlington.

    If WB is simply using the Burlington dispatch channel for fireground operations without, or with a different, PL it's no wonder they're having problems.

    All of their neighbors are also very close.
    Henry Co - 154.400
    Lee Co - 154.445
    Louisa Co - 154.145

    None of them listed a fireground channel, either...

    Henry and Lee could very possibly be causing some interference due to their proximity to your frequency. They shouldn't be, but it happens when the wind blows just right and the planets align (no, really!).
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    If Radio Reference only goes off dispatch channels there may be NUMEROUS fireground channels not listed as they may not be monitored by the county dispatch center. That's how it is where I am at.
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    West Burlington is dispatched through Des Moines County. There frequency is 154.19 and I've been told that the repeater frequency is 159.2275 but WBFD25 can correct me if I'm wrong on that.

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    We switched this week and it seems to be going OK. We are on VHF High (154.415) and use voice paging. About the only issue we've had is that 1/2 of the county get paged off of a repeater and if you're not in that i/2 of the county it's really hard to pick up a page, this wasn't an issue before.

    On the flip side of that, since we have switched I've been picking up pages from a county that's two hours away from us but on the same frequency. They are very busy and my pager is constantly going off, it's actually starting to get a little annoying.

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    I would fully support us going to a non repeated channel on the fireground if we covered more area than we do. I still like the idea of having it available if/when the repeater is down.

    I want to give the other departments some time to get their digital systems worked out before we swap over. Let them work the kinks out.
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    Those of you having issues with pagers picking up calls, are you using "true" narrow band capable pagers or the same ones you had before? We are looking at buying all new pagers to pick up the narrow band pages better.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRider245 View Post
    Those of you having issues with pagers picking up calls, are you using "true" narrow band capable pagers or the same ones you had before? We are looking at buying all new pagers to pick up the narrow band pages better.
    We are using Motorola Minitor 5's and they have been reprogrammed to narrow band. We used to pick up the other counties once in a great while but it has been constant ever since we switched.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FyredUp View Post
    If Radio Reference only goes off dispatch channels there may be NUMEROUS fireground channels not listed as they may not be monitored by the county dispatch center. That's how it is where I am at.
    Radioreference uses field reports as well. I find them reasonably accurate.

    All of our fire channels are listed, including the fire police frequency, which is pretty much hand-helds only. A local military installation's trunked system, which you won't find listed in the FCC databases, has most of the frequencies listed, as well as many of the talkgroups - all from field reports.

    That's been my experience in most areas I've travelled to, with regard to what's listed vs whats in use.

    WBFD25 can fill us in.
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    The county is currently building a massive 700mhz system for law enforcement that is currently set to go online by the end of the year. Our voice frequencies will remain on VHF high. This is what we wanted. We will still have common communications with other departments and the coverage area will be better.

    We will use the new system for MDC data and station alerting. We currently use two-tone sequential paging for station/pager alerting. I know some of our frequencies have gone narrowband but not sure if all of them have been reprogrammed. I have noticed the volume has been reduced but other then that, it seems the same to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRider245 View Post
    Those of you having issues with pagers picking up calls, are you using "true" narrow band capable pagers or the same ones you had before? We are looking at buying all new pagers to pick up the narrow band pages better.
    We have seen for the most part identical recieve specs in pagers that are narrowband and pagers that are not, when checked on a narrowband system or a narrowband signal from a service monitor.

    But remember, switching a system to narrowband by itself will see a 3DB loss in coverage.

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    Our County owns our dispatch frequencies and they still do not have a definitive "plan" for making the transition. The channel we are on (151.430) was supposed to be temporary to get us switched from lowband to highband in 2005 (it is shared as a different fire dispatch channel in the same county, but with different PL tones). They told us last year that they were phasing our channel out and moving us to a new narrowbanded channel. To this date, the only answer we can get as to when is "soon" (this was also told to us in April and still no progress). The best part is, we have 3 independent volunteer fire companies in our township, 2 of which are on the "old" channel and 1 is on the "new" channel. Sorta makes interoperability a little tough sometimes. Plus, our County just moved about 20 departments from lowband to highband and one from ultra-high to highband in the past month, but still nothing for us. Frustrating to say the least considering we are ready and willing but they won't commit to anything.
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