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  1. #1
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    Default 800 mHz radio system

    I'm being told that the contract communications company for our county is trying to get us to switch to the 800 mHz radio system. I've not had any first hand experience with it; however, I have heard of at least one municipality that tried it and within six mos. demanded their vhf consoles back.
    My brother-in-law is a Ft. Worth police officer, and they are on the 800 system, but they have many convenient sites for repeaters. My concern is the dependability of the system, esp. on the fireground. We are primarily a rural community. Our terrain varies, not to mention trees. At this time, we are using Vertex 6000 and 4000 mobiles. Our first-out truck has the Vertex mobile repeater on it. I'm not saying that we haven't had issues with vhf...but from what I'm hearing from others, the 800 system would require more repeaters throughout the county, and the signal wouldn't be dependable from the interior of a structure.

    I suppose I'm asking what the negatives are, as well as the positives. Who could weigh in on the subject?


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    Forum Member RES81CUE's Avatar
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    I do not have any first hand knowledge of the 800mhz system but, I would say with any new system you should have them set up a temp repeater site and give you a couple handhelds and drive around doing radio tests. My county just switched from a old low band sysytem to a very nice uhf system. We had them set up repeaters where they thought were the best location and we tested them. If there are any dead spots, some were fixed by tweaking the antanae or in some cases had to move the tower site orput another repeater sysytem into play to make it work. But, the biggest thing is dont stand for them to say "well your gonna have a few dead spots". With the technology out there they can design a sysytem that will work. JMO

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    Money is the main problem with 800mhz trunked systems. They cost a lot, and very few ever get built as designed because when the price comes to the PTB, they start looking for ways to lower the price. The first thing they usually do is start cutting sites (repeaters) and this gives you holes in the coverage area and lots of dead spots.

    Built as designed, with a reliable back up power system, these are great. Very few get it right the first time mainly because of monetary issues.

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    Forum Member RES81CUE's Avatar
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    On the topic if the signal would work inside a structure, There are several factors that come into play. Type of construction ,thickness of walls, what type of things are in the buildings (Computers or other electronics). What we have done is we have a Fireground channel that is repeated that we use on most cases but, if while in a building we have some trouble transmitting we can hit a button on our handhelds that switch us to a talkaround. The neat thing is you are transmitting on the same channel so Incident Command will still hear you. Your basically taking the repeater out of the loop.

  5. #5
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by REVANANT
    Money is the main problem with 800mhz trunked systems. They cost a lot, and very few ever get built as designed because when the price comes to the PTB, they start looking for ways to lower the price. The first thing they usually do is start cutting sites (repeaters) and this gives you holes in the coverage area and lots of dead spots.

    Built as designed, with a reliable back up power system, these are great. Very few get it right the first time mainly because of monetary issues.
    Thank god. This is exactly what I would have typed. Now I can just say "What he said."
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  6. #6
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    Just from my experence listening to my county's system, it works most of the time and pretty good. everytime there is a fire the batt chief usually has everyone set up their radio on I-TAC4 in simplex as a back up. The bad thing now is the county is going to a Digital trunking system which most would agree is a bad Idea. the biggest thing is to be careful what the salespeople tell you. I have heard "you need to go to a Digital(or analog) trunk system because VHF/UHF is obsoleate and soo you will not be able to get parts for it" well thats a load of crap, 800Mhz Trunking has been around for over 20 years and there is still more VHF and UHF systems out there than Trunked systems for public saftey. JMO

  7. #7
    Forum Member tbonetrexler's Avatar
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    We use the 800 here in KC(kent county), DE along with a backup 400 just in case. Ive been in about a year and a half and its only gone down once i think, for about ten minutes, just yesterday. Really bad timing too, right in the middle of a trailer park/house/woods/cornfield fire just south of here. other than that, not many problems.
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    My county is in the process of going to 800 MHz for the fire service. EMS and Police have been on 800 MHz for a while. The first problem that the county ran into was the lack of towers. I think they built 25 towers around the county to compensate for the increase number of radios. Also, the new towers eliminated almost all of the dead spots in the county.

    Secondly, every fire company had to obtain the funds to purchase the radios. Some received state and fema grants to pay for them. One thing that would recommend is to try and get your muncipality to pay for them and try for grants. This way your fire company does not have to spend as much.

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    Most of the responses have been along the lines of "it isn't that bad." However being a radio communications professional along with a fireman I can say that probably the majority of these systems are pushed along by communications companies looking to drum up business. In my mind VHF is clearly superior and there are two main reasons it does not have the forefront of attention still: frequencies are hard to get (due to it working so well everyone wants it), and the equipment that was installed 10 or 15 years ago still works fine, resulting in the communications companies getting no sales and little service revenue from it.

    Not saying it's "bad" per se, just before making any decisions look at people's motives and look at VHF very closely. With narrowbanding VHF is getting a new "run" on it and now is the time to do it. We just set up a general commercial system at my side job and it works extremely well, tow trucks, taxi cabs, buses, plumbers, they all love it and think it's great. It basically works the same as our fire system which has been around since the late 80s and the state forestry system which has been there even longer than that.

    Birken

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    From what I'm hearing, FEMA is drying up quite a bit since the Gulf Coast storms, so grants may be a little more difficult to come by. I'm a bit skeptical of any hype over the 800 system since, generally speaking, it's not much different from the cell phone band, not to mention most of the hype is coming from a salesman paid by commission. Cell phone service sux out here. Now, I know that we would have our own network of repeaters; however, as was mentioned earlier, if they decided that they were going to cut costs, it's likely that they would do it with the amount of repeater towers. I'm still a little frosted over the fact the they are already trying to sell the county up on a new system after all of the deputies' vehicles were outfitted with Vertex Standard Mobile Repeaters or Vertex 6000's. (These things transmit at 110 watts.) I have a Vertex 4000 55 watt personal mobile in my truck and it beats the heck outta Maxon all day long. Texas has something called the "Texas Interoperability Plan" which mandates what common frequencies are supposed to be in every police and fire vehicle's radio. There are eight channels that are "required" to be in compliance. They are all on the vhf band and Texas Forest Service is the mandated custodian of these frequencies. That would put us in the untennable [sp?] position of having to have yet another radio for each vehicle (if we had to go to the 800's). We're all fighting the 800 tooth and nail if for no other reason besides cost, don't we all have enough equipment to keep up with? Now I suppose I'm ranting...I'll shut up and try to stay open minded from now on.

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    After making that reply I thought about it a little more. Besides the obvious factors (certain large radio corporations want to sell as much crap as they can) you need to ask yourself these questions:

    Are you happy with cell phone service in your area?

    Would you like to have your fire radios work similarly?

    Does your department have the money to construct and maintain a similar infrastructure to the cell phone system?

    I know that within a couple of months and for less than $20k per site I and one other guy can construct a high band system that will work well and it might take 3 sites to do it. Using existing structures. Radios cost between $500 and $1500 for the vehicles and portables. How does that compare to an 800 system proposal?

    Birken

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    We use the 800 system in Chambers County in Texas as does most of the departments in harris county (Houston). We had a lot of departments in our area resist going to 800mhz. I love it and would not go back to VHF. Here are some pros and cons:

    PRO:
    1. As many channels as you can stand. We have 1 primary and 5 tac channels.

    2. Mulitple tower sites, you can switch to the best tower to transmit, or get the expensive radios and it picks to best tower automatically.

    3. Ours get better reception in buildings, not sure were the people are that have problems in buildings.

    4. 800 radios can have simplex channels, if the towers go down.

    5. Interoperability. Dispatch can patch any and all channels together.

    CON:
    1. Expensive, I think our handhelds are $4500 or so.

  13. #13
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    Default 800 Systems

    I have a question. What happens when you help in another community or area that doesn't have your 800 system? What frequency are you using then? Your 800 system probably works great for you in your area, but you can't take it with you, would be my guess. Shouldn't there be a statewide and then a nationwide standard?

    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    We use the 800 system in Chambers County in Texas as does most of the departments in harris county (Houston). We had a lot of departments in our area resist going to 800mhz. I love it and would not go back to VHF. Here are some pros and cons:

    PRO:
    1. As many channels as you can stand. We have 1 primary and 5 tac channels.

    2. Mulitple tower sites, you can switch to the best tower to transmit, or get the expensive radios and it picks to best tower automatically.

    3. Ours get better reception in buildings, not sure were the people are that have problems in buildings.

    4. 800 radios can have simplex channels, if the towers go down.

    5. Interoperability. Dispatch can patch any and all channels together.

    CON:
    1. Expensive, I think our handhelds are $4500 or so.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    We use the 800 system in Chambers County in Texas as does most of the departments in harris county (Houston). We had a lot of departments in our area resist going to 800mhz. I love it and would not go back to VHF. Here are some pros and cons:

    PRO:
    1. As many channels as you can stand. We have 1 primary and 5 tac channels.

    2. Mulitple tower sites, you can switch to the best tower to transmit, or get the expensive radios and it picks to best tower automatically.

    3. Ours get better reception in buildings, not sure were the people are that have problems in buildings.

    4. 800 radios can have simplex channels, if the towers go down.

    5. Interoperability. Dispatch can patch any and all channels together.

    CON:
    1. Expensive, I think our handhelds are $4500 or so.
    All the items you listed are not exclusive to 800 in theory though they basically had been exclusive in practice up until recently. These days the FCC is working to get more trunking on other bands.

    ------------------

    Quote Originally Posted by bummer
    I have a question. What happens when you help in another community or area that doesn't have your 800 system? What frequency are you using then? Your 800 system probably works great for you in your area, but you can't take it with you, would be my guess. Shouldn't there be a statewide and then a nationwide standard?
    Read the post above:

    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    CON:
    1. Expensive, I think our handhelds are $4500 or so.
    If I go buy the fanciest newfangled Bendix King DPH (Project 25) handheld or the GPH-commander I still get in under 2000 bucks.

    The problem with a nationwide standard is that it will likely be 700 MHz what with all the hoopla lately. In Florida or Texas where there are no hills that might work OK but here where the mountains are tall and the canyons are deep it would take dozens if not hundreds of sites to cover it all. Many of these places are unpopulated but have the potential for large fires. The end result would be that some of the further out sites would get no usage at all except once every few years.

    Not only the initial installation cost, but the ongoing maintenance for so many sites would be tremendous. If it is not economical for the cell companies to install towers there to serve hundreds if not thousands of customers then why would it be for a government to serve a few dozen.

    Nevertheless with the unfortunate timing of Katrina and the lack of forethought by the local and state agencies who were responsible, and the FCC mandated clearing of the 700 MHz spectrum by broadcasters, and the Federal Government's apparent desire to take over everything, I see an enormous government pork barrel boondoggle on the horizon.

    I hope I'm wrong.

    Birken

  15. #15
    Forum Member nmfire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    1. As many channels as you can stand. We have 1 primary and 5 tac channels.
    You can do that with any band. It's been done with low band, VHF, and UHF for much longer than 800Mhz has even existed.

    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    2. Mulitple tower sites, you can switch to the best tower to transmit, or get the expensive radios and it picks to best tower automatically.
    Remote receiver voting was around before 800Mhz trunking was invented. It is always automatic and it doens't care what kind of radio you are using. It can steer the transmitters based on which receiver is voted as well.


    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    3. Ours get better reception in buildings, not sure were the people are that have problems in buildings.
    That just means your 800 system has a better saturation of transmitters and receivers. This is not the norm nor the rule. Any radio system in any band can have superiour building penetration if it is designed correctly. It is a lot harder to accomplish with 800Mhz for that matter.

    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    4. 800 radios can have simplex channels, if the towers go down.
    Are you implying that there is no such thing as a simplex channel if you aren't 800Mhz? All communications on every band was simplex before the advent of repeaters. And now with repeaters being common place for primary communications, the simplex mode of the repeater's output is often used for direct unit-to-unit communications and tactical work. Additional simplex channels are common place as well. This again was a communications plan long before anyone knew what 800Mhz trunking was.

    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    5. Interoperability. Dispatch can patch any and all channels together.
    Again, this is nothing exclusive to 800Mhz. Any substantial radio console can patch anything into anything. I can click the mouse in front of me right now and patch together 6 channels, a scanner, and multicast over any number of them I want. There are UHF and VHF simplex and repeater channels. None of them are 800Mhz or trunking.

    Quote Originally Posted by bod911
    CON:
    1. Expensive, I think our handhelds are $4500 or so.
    I'm guessing a basic model XTS5000 portable? I'd love to meet the people who managed to justify that expense. It is totally unneccessary for 90% of the people who carry a radio.

    Oh yea, the portable radios I buy for my department that meet all of your pros and then some cost $800 fully equiped.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

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    nm is correct in his statements. those are not 800 exclusive features. We have all the features you speak of and our system is VHF. So many people are under the impression that new systems are all 800 ... 800 thats where the bells and whistles are at ... not so ... those things can be done in any band.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bummer
    I have a question. What happens when you help in another community or area that doesn't have your 800 system? What frequency are you using then? Your 800 system probably works great for you in your area, but you can't take it with you, would be my guess. Shouldn't there be a statewide and then a nationwide standard?

    According to my understanding of the Texas Interoperability Plan, the state has established the vhf band as the statewide standard. This is what the Texas Forest Service uses, and they are the custodial licensee for TexFire 1,2,&3; TexLaw 1,2,&3; as well as TexMed 1,2,&3. These are all statewide mutual aid/ inter-intra-agency frequencies. The primary mutual aid frequency for fire is 154.28000. Even Dallas Fire-Rescue maintains a vhf capability for that frequency since they run auto-assist with Duncanville, Carrollton, Plano, and Highland Park/University Park. I'm not sure how it is mandated or what the penalty for non-compliance is at this point; however, there's no reason to have an interoperability plan in place if there's no way to enforce it.

    There's no doubt that vhf equipment is less expensive overall. And since everyone in our county is using that band, I can't imagine what the cost would be to outfit everyone, paid AND unpaid. We're all having a difficult time trying to meet expenses as it is.

  18. #18
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    Thumbs down Well.............

    This has been discussed "ad nauseum" here on the forums, and it will be a topic for some time to come. Personal Opinion: I don't know which I dislike..... No, make that Hate, more, 800Mhz or Trunking. I would much more prefer a simplex system on the 30-50Mhz band over anything else. And, while we are on the subject, am I the only person here that thinks "Interoperability" may not be that great idea that some folks preach about? I have no need to talk to the Dogcatcher in the next County, and I certainly don't want that option cluttering up my system.
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    Quote Originally Posted by nmfire
    You can do that with any band. It's been done with low band, VHF, and UHF for much longer than 800Mhz has even existed.
    Whoa. Sure, you can have as many channels as you want with either simplex or repeatered VHF, UHF, etc., but the likelihood of you getting as many conventional channels as you can have talkgroups on a trunked system is just about nil.

    For example, here in King County, WA, there is a countywide 800 mhz trunked system. It's one big system made up of three sub systems. The three subsystems are something like 16 channels, and are simulcast among a bunch of different sites. Each radio is affiliated with a sub-system, but can talk on any of the three across the county.

    So you've got 48 frequencies (96 including in and out) used in the simulcast systems. Using those 96 channels, you've got over 700 talkgroups on the system. If you wanted to give each one of those 700 talkgroups their own simplex/repeatered conventional frequency, you'd either require 700 frequencies, or 1400 if they're all repeatered. 96 channels vs. 1400 channels: you can see which is a more efficient use of the spectrum.

    This is not to say that trunked systems are the end all be all of radio systems. They have their issues. But they're also very capable of making communications a whole lot better if they're designed and built properly.

    As far as conventional channels go, there are nationwide 800mhz channels that should be in every radio, regardless of manufacturer: the ICall and ITac channels.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by OneL1L
    As far as conventional channels go, there are nationwide 800mhz channels that should be in every radio, regardless of manufacturer: the ICall and ITac channels.
    That is true in every band...there are several "mutual aid" freqs in VHF that sould be in every VHF radio as well. Problem is many folks are never made aware of them or don't feel its important (that ole' won't happen here syndrom thing). If the mutual aid freqs were in every radio, communications would be much better at large scale events ... not saying there arn't always interoperability problems, but they can be significantly reduced with a little prior preperation, training and awareness
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