Selecting, maintaining and upgrading hardware
The equipment your workers use, how it is maintained and when it is upgraded, will determine the degree of communications confidence your organization can have, and the return on your communications investment.
This post focuses on the importance of selecting, maintaining and upgrading hardware to protect and strengthen your LMR system. If you missed the previous posts you can read those here.
The Tougher LMR Networks guide investigates every aspect of wireless communications, and considers how operators might make their LMR systems more resilient. You can also download the full guide and read it on the go.
Selecting the right hardware
If you consider some high-level failure scenarios, you can determine how durable your hardware will need to be. Common hardware solutions that increase the strength of your system are:
- back-up power source/s generators and batteries,
- duplication of site equipment so that no single site failure has significant impact on your coverage or capacity,
- microwave or fiber network architecture (star, ring, hybrid, hot standby), Specify seamless switchover during failure – ring architecture for backhaul system.
- antenna system engineering, using multiple antennas, combiners and multicouplers at large sites,
- redundant controllers, including geographically distributed ones,
- emergency radio cache, maintained and programmed for mutual aid,
- transportable repeaters that can extend current coverage or set up dedicated communications within minutes.
Remote sites need the best equipment you can purchase, to reduce failure and minimize callouts during winter.
Often, low-risk system equipment gets the attention and funding, while crucial equipment is overlooked. When you are prioritizing your purchases, keep in mind what breaks most often. These are:
- power (poor quality unprotected mains, un-maintained UPS or DC battery banks, un-tested generators, generators with insufficient fuel supplies),
- antenna systems (bad lightning protection, poor grounding, poor design),
- backhaul (operator/technician errors).
Repairs, upgrades and checks
Increasing system complexity has changed the role of system technicians. The key skills for techs are now troubleshooting, diagnosing and resolving system failure – antenna system problems, power problems, backbone issues and system configuration errors.
Virtually all electronic boards are now unserviceable except in highly-specialized settings, so field repairs are largely limited to replacing antennas, knobs, switches, display boards, speakers, and microphones. For all other problems, radios need to be returned for factory-based repairs. At system level, field repair is now limited to swapping faulty boards or even entire devices.
The ability for technicians to perform component level repairs is no longer important, except to maintain legacy equipment.
Upgrading hardware and software
Every aspect of your system is software- dependent, so it is important that you understand the implications of upgrading (or not upgrading):
• interoperability with other organizations,
• compatibility with system components,
• costs of falling behind on upgrades (typically more expensive than keeping up),
• impact of operating system obsolescence on your upgrade plans,
• taking advantage of useful new features and functions.
Before it is rolled out, test software on a dummy system, to avoid having to roll back – this can have huge implications for your system, and leave your communications vulnerable. Nevertheless, it is wise to have a rollback plan for worst-case scenarios.
Cost, 24/7 availability or warranty/liability will often dictate whether you use your own technicians or a third party. Whatever the decision, responsibility for day-to-day maintenance must be clearly defined.
Schedule thorough maintenance checks at least annually – as your system ages, you need to schedule checks more frequently.
- Test your microwave system regularly. Links can be checked on site, so technician can measure and record parameters such as signal strength and BER.
- Alternatively, MiMo (multiple- input and multiple-output) linking can save on maintenance, as its alignment needn’t be so precise.
- Periodically simulate failure conditions to test switchover functions for backhaul networks designed for automatic switchover.
- Electronic hardware is becoming ever more reliable. Systems
with appropriate environmental (temperature and humidity) control can manage with annual checks, but systems working at high capacity or in difficult environments should be checked more often.
- Base station maintenance should include thorough examination
of the receiver, transmitter and, above all, antenna system.
Scheduled site maintenance
Site inspections should be scheduled more often in regions with challenging weather or geography. Inspections should include:
- generators, including batteries, propane tank levels,
- security measures,
- on-site spares.
Spring and autumn equipment checks are particularly important in mountain regions. Make sure crews have all necessary spares and tools with them – returning to base to pick up forgotten items is costly.
Back up power – generators and UPSs – are often overlooked. Make sure UPS and DC-bank batteries are maintained to manufacturer recommendations and back- up generators are periodically exercised so they start easily, and have sufficient fuel for extended emergencies.
As digital radios become more reliable, routine tune-ups become less common. Instead, radios are usually tested whenever they come in for reprogramming or repair. Ideally this will be supplemented by remote monitoring.
Every radio needs to return to base regularly, especially your portable radio fleet, which are subject to physical damage as well as malfunction. Check portables whenever they are in the shop, and update your records. Asset Management software makes this task simple and quick.
It is more difficult to check on your mobile fleet – a wide area system might only see mobiles every seven or ten years. You can implement a program of radio maintenance alongside the vehicle maintenance schedule.
This article is taken from the 10 part guide to Tougher LMR Systems.
If you would like to download this article and the other articles in the series you can do that on the Tait website.