Rural Agencies Adopt Digital Communications
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Comments
Photo courtesy Kenwood
 
 
 
During a period of just more than two months, five counties or cities in Georgia and Kentucky selected NEXEDGE technology from Kenwood Communications for their public-safety communications networks. The agencies have several things in common, including a need to be cost conscious and comply with the FCC’s VHF and UHF narrowbanding mandate.
 
Most of the agencies were operating on outdated technology before the upgrades. Officials said they were impressed with the coverage, features and cost of the digital technology compared with other options. Christian County, Ky., operated a group of repeaters that had been in place since the early 1970s. Each department had its own individual repeater, some of which operated at UHF and some at VHF.
 
“Interoperability was through our dispatch center, with information being relayed from dispatcher to dispatcher on the various repeaters,” said Randy Graham, the county’s deputy emergency manager. “We needed a better system for interoperability.”
 
The county went live last April with a three-site 18-channel NEXEDGE system with more than 700 radios. The system was still in the test phase in early 2009 when ice storms struck Kentucky and Tennessee. “The system worked without a flaw during that ice storm. It’s a shame we didn’t have it fully deployed,” Graham said.
 
The county originally planned to deploy an analog MPT 1327 trunked system. The deployment was delayed because of county siting issues. “When the deployment got back on track, Kenwood was releasing the NEXEDGE system,” Graham said. “It was a no-brainer to get the digital technology versus analog.”
 
The $1.2 million system included all infrastructure and radios for police, fire and EMS. The system also serves city, county and state officials, including the Kentucky State Police, local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials. The system serves about 35 agencies.
 
NEXEDGE is based on NXDN, a 6.25-kilohertz FDMA digital air protocol, jointly developed by Icom and Kenwood Communications. Icom markets its NXDN equipment under the Icom Digital Advanced System (IDAS) brand. The NXDN Forum announced several initiatives last week to boost interoperability among NXDN vendors.
 
Kenwood Communications’ John North, general manager, systems group, said that because of NEXEDGE’s feature set and product specifications, public safety has always been a target market. “With interfaces to legacy analog conventional and trunked systems, NEXEDGE offers the option for public-safety agencies to budget their transition from analog to digital, allowing them to mix the old mobiles and portables with NEXEDGE radios,” North said. “One of the many and more important benefits of NEXEDGE is Project 25 (P25) features at an affordable price.
 
Some P25 proponents have said introducing another digital technology to public-safety agencies could hinder interoperability. North said the technology is interoperable with P25 using gateways. “We have three or four neighboring counties that have applied for and received approval with some Kentucky homeland-security grant money,” Graham said. “Once they deploy their systems, we can link them together and have a regional system.”
 
Grant funding has been another issue surrounding the NXDN-based technology. Federal grant programs imply agencies must deploy P25 equipment to garner funding. North said the recent update to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Safecom guide for federal grant programs can be interpreted as requiring P25 deployment for public safety. “But if you read closely, the door is cracked open for an agency with a compelling story to tell,” North said. “Grant funding is a little more challenging but it has been proven it can be done.”
 
Graham said Christian County used E9-1-1 monies and local budget funds for most of the system. Federal grant money through a drug task force helped purchase radios.
 
“Economics was the biggest issue; they wanted trunking, they wanted to go digital and they wanted to narrowband in one fell swoop,” said Steve Macke, a consultant with Advent who worked on the Christian County project.
 
Since December, Kenwood Communications has announced NEXEDGE customers in Tattnall and McDuffie counties and the city of Canton in Georgia, along with Logan County, Ky. 
 
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