How to successfully project engineer a radio system – Part 1

By Susan Ronning, P.E.

arrows_and_blocksFollowing a project process is one thing; engineering a system is another. Put them together and you’ve got double the complexity — or more! That’s why project engineering a radio system is just as much about people as it is about technology.

It goes without saying that this kind of project is about managing multiple tasks and keeping “interoperability neighbors” (the different groups of people who use the system) up-to-speed with the proposed changes, so that they can manage the impact on their own systems. And, of course, current systems have to be kept “up” and operational, too.

So it’s not surprising to learn that radio system projects can easily become unwieldy. There’s not only the legacy radio network to replace, but the upgrade or replacement of multiple support systems to factor into your plans, too. It’s best to take a phased approach to keep the complexity at a manageable level. In my experience, you can break things down like this:

Design phase: identifying the “who”, “what”, and “where”

The design phase assumes a need has been identified to replace the current communications system due to the inability to repair or acquire parts, lack of desired system functionality, degraded coverage, or other system shortcomings. Steps within this phase include a needs analysis, technical assessment and preliminary design.

Procurement phase

The complexity of the project determines the level of complexity of the procurement phase. For a simple radio replacement project where no changes to the system other than hardware replacement is involved, direct purchase of off-the-shelf equipment may suffice. Yet, it is more likely that an integrated solution is necessary, in which case a more structured approach is needed.

Implementation phase: agreeing the “how” and “when”

Project management plays a large role in the implementation phase. It’s a juggling act of sorts, due to the many moving parts and the interdependencies of systems and sub-systems. System engineering controls are used to track decisions and requirements, to maintain technical baselines, to manage interfaces and risks, and to track resources, costs and the schedule.

Maintenance phase

Upon completion of the implementation phase, the system moves into the maintenance phase, where day-to-day operations and routine and preventative maintenance occur.

Look out for part 2 of this blog series: The who, what, where? phase — getting your new radio system approved.

Susan Ronning, P.E., has experience as a vendor, consultant and customer, and has been involved in all aspects and phases of a project, from inception to final acceptance. She holds a BSEE and MBA and is an active member of the IEEE, APCO, and the Civil Air Patrol. Ms. Ronning is a Senior Systems Engineer for Tait Communications. .


  1. […] posts in this series: Part 1 – Overview Part 2 – The who, what, where? phase — getting your new radio system approved Part 3 […]

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