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Governments consider unified trunked radio to replace local systems.

A task force representing over 200 different cities, counties, school, transit, special districts and regional state agencies in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area has begun assessing the feasibility of creating one big 800 MHz trunked radio system.

The system will serve the voice, data and two-radio communications of all local and regional governments in the 2,100 square mile area that is home to 2.3 million people.

Today, the area's government radio systems are almost all in the VHF (150 MHz) and UHF (4550-460 MHz) frequency bands using outdated nontrunking technology. Over 75 such independent systems are in place.

Like other major metro areas in the USA, all UHF and VHF radio channels have been allocated (a finite resource allocated by the FCC) and many are significantly overloaded. No government needing a radio channel today can get one in these conventional frequency bands.

At the urging of city and county communications users and elected officials from across the spectrum of government radio users, the project was undertaken in early 1991 by the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities (Met Council), a regional governmental body with broad planning and limited taxing powers.

Mikhail Gorbachev's June 1990 visit to the Twin Cities was the crucible event which defined the area's problems. Transportation, logistical and security problems arose which needed communications solutions.

This event was the impetus to ensure that any spending on new area radio systems was as efficient as possible, without creating too many incompatible and overlapping trunked or other type radio systems.

Today, there are two 800 MHz trunked systems ordered or in operation in the area. The Met Council commissioned the task force, representing communications users and local elected officials, with a report due to the council by mid 1992 and legislative recommendations to the State Legislature by late 1992. If the Met Council decides to proceed with the effort, it's likely that state legislation will be required.

The task force is considering a wide area digital trunked system (the latest technology on the verge of release, as opposed to less spectrum-efficient analog systems) using 806 MHz channels as well as the NPSPAC channels (a group of channels set aside by the FCC for public safety) at 821 MHz.

It has examined the system in place in Tulsa and the plans for the proposed Metro Seattle/King County, Wash. system. The Twin Cities' system would have to serve an estimated 10,000 subscriber units over 2,100 square miles. The communications engineering consulting firm of Bernie Ebstein & Associates of Chicago has been retained to conduct a preliminary design and needs assessment.

Eearly estimates show the total system costing upwards of $50 million: $20 million in fixed backbone (towers, central computers, transmitters, receivers and microwave or fiber-optic links), and the rest in subscriber units (hand held and mobile radios and dispatcher control consoles).

Current thoughts are to pay for the fixed backbone with a regional funding base, while each agency will pay for subscriber equipment. Also under discussion is a monthly "user access fee" (like cellular telephone) per end user device, and a usage sensitive "air time fee" for all minutes of usage over and above a liberal minimum base.

A regional property tax levy or a telecommunications service access excise tax to back a $20 million bond issue is also being considered. The regional property tax would figure out to less than $1.50 per household per year for 20 years.

While the major rationale for such a system is the economy of a single system versus dozens of redundant systems, other significant operational advantages might also accrue.

For example, assigning private "channels" to smaller units of government becomes possible (meaning units not now enjoying the efficiencies of two-day radio would be able to), along with wide area coverage, greater communications security, greater interagency communications abilities, and greater flexibility and safety for all users--especially public safety users.

Incorporating IVHS (intelligent vehicle highway safety system) units in the network is also being considered as part of the area's plan to make freeway usage more efficient without laying more expensive and disruptive concrete.

Also under consideration is the transportation of some or all of the area's annual Enhanced 911 calls over the backbone and switching away from costly leased circuits provided by phone companies.

Significant planning and technical assistance has been provided by all three major trunked system vendors: Ericsson-GE, E.F. Johnson and Motorola. Paul Linnee, Director Emergency Communications City of Minneapolis
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Cellular/2-Way Radio
Author:Linnee, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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