May 7, 2024 by Mark Townson

What’s in our Toolbox to Solve Radio Coverage Challenges?

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Industries: 9-1-1 & Law Enforcement Federal Fire & EMS

Topics: APX Two-Way Radios & Accessories ASTRO P25 Infrastructure Disaster Response School Safety

In urban areas, radio coverage is designed for portables on the street, with some margins for indoor coverage. You will often hear it described as “95%, at hip, portable radio coverage.” This would mean that in 95% of the outdoor locations, 95% of the time, wearing the portable radio at the hip, the user can expect good radio communications.

For those areas where portable radios can’t communicate, such as remote outdoor areas or deep inside a big building, what can be done to improve coverage?

A comprehensive coverage solution toolbox from Motorola Solutions addresses these coverage challenges. Each solution in the toolbox has to be examined carefully to ensure it meets your budget and operational requirements. In many cases it can be a combination of solutions that complement one another.

The first solution in the toolbox is adding fixed radio sites. Fixed radio sites provide mission critical coverage for all users and can improve both wide-area on-street coverage and in-building coverage. Fixed radio sites provide seamless roaming for all first responders and are designed to provide quick and secure transmissions. They also may be hardened to withstand natural disasters. The signal from the fixed site may be strong enough to penetrate nearby buildings for indoor coverage.

Diving deeper into the toolbox, distributed antenna systems (DAS) can provide in-building coverage. A DAS consists of an outdoor antenna which captures the desired frequency off the air and feeds the signal into a bi-directional amplifier (BDA) inside the building. The BDA amplifies the signal, which is distributed over coaxial cable to antennas strategically placed throughout the building. At Motorola Solutions, we are a one-stop shop for DAS solutions, including not only DAS equipment, but also a dedicated team of DAS system engineers and a trained service team to  ensure that your system is designed and installed properly, meeting building code requirements. Once your DAS is installed and commissioned, we can monitor it, ensuring that it continues to operate properly. 

Vehicle repeaters are the next tool that can be used to address coverage challenges. The vehicle repeater is a conventional repeater that is connected to a mobile radio. When installed in the back of a firetruck or patrol car, the vehicle repeater extends portable radio coverage. A user in the field uses their portable radio to connect to their vehicle, and the vehicle repeater uses the higher power of the mobile radio to connect to the radio system. Vehicle repeaters have been used by large state and provincial police agencies along with large city and suburban fire departments to extend their portable radio coverage. While you can use any P25 portable radio with a vehicle repeater, our APX series of portables have been enhanced to combine the features of trunking, with the safety of conventional systems when using a Motorola Solutions vehicle repeater.

The last tool to examine is SmartConnect. SmartConnect enables first responders to seamlessly transition to broadband (LTE or Wi-Fi) should they be outside of the P25 radio network boundaries. The feature automatically switches your voice channel to an LTE or Wi-Fi network whenever LMR is unavailable or its signal strength falls below a set threshold, and then back again when you return to coverage. The switchover is fast (typically less than 3 seconds) and requires no user intervention. P25 packets are sent over broadband unchanged, so the user continues to take advantage of radio features like authentication and end-to-end encryption, without affecting voice quality.

Although there is no panacea to solve coverage challenges, and every agency has different requirements and priorities, discussing your radio coverage challenges with your Motorola Solutions account manager is the best start. They can provide you a thorough walkthrough of the available tools. 

Contact your local Motorola Solutions account manager to discuss your RF coverage challenges.

Contact us to find out more about our solutions and services.

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