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Industry News

National Park Service collaborates with C4i to deliver signal range extension

December 12, 2012
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In early fall C4i was called upon to assist a high altitude search and rescue training facility located in the mountains of eastern California. The base dispatch center was having difficulty communicating across a high peak to personnel on the other side, as well as with aircraft.  The field team operated in a very rugged, remote area and needed a way to communicate with members who worked at the main buildings, however the groups were separated by a mountain range 3 miles (5 km) away. Additionally, aircraft regularly lost communications with each other and with the control facility at low altitude due to terrain interference. This beyond-line-of-sight obstacle was only one of many communication challenges this facility faced. 

Among those challenges was the fact that users required multiple VHF and UHF radios to talk to aircraft and personnel. To make matters more difficult, the available antenna tower and radio hut had no electrical power, direct cable connection or microwave link to the main facility. Also, the range at which reliable communications with inbound aircraft could be achieved was very limited. Ground personnel were using up to three separate radios to perform their role. This complicated operations and distracted users from their primary mission.

In addition to the operational challenges, funding was also limited. Therefore, any viable solution had to be as cost-effective as possible.

C4i, with support from the National Park Service, developed an integrated solution that was both creative and affordable. The solution involved several components — C4i’s SwitchplusIP™ dispatch console system housed in the main control facility, which was then connected via Ubiquiti high-speed wireless IP links to C4i’s Radio Interface Units (RIUs) on the peak. The RIU allowed transmission and reception of audio from the various land mobile radios (LMRs) on the IP network. Lack of cabling was solved by the use of Solar Panels and wind generators in order to maintain a charge on the battery power supplies.
Access to the radio site on the mountaintop was quite difficult, which meant that if any equipment or tools were forgotten during set-up, there would be significant delays. Therefore, to ensure a smooth installation, all equipment was procured, staged and tested at C4i’s facility in Virginia first, before shipping to the actual site. This exercise made the subsequent set-up very efficient as the system had already been configured and analyzed.

Once there, a proof-of-concept trial system was installed and evaluated over a one-week period. The trial was deemed an unmitigated success and the new equipment exceeded all expectations. Now, from the comfort of the control facility, operators could use the SwitchplusIP console to monitor multiple radio channels, patch or cross-band VHF and UHF channels, and transmit on one or multiple channels. C4i’s solution allowed the use of one radio to communicate with all channels using the integrated cross-banding feature of the SwitchplusIP system. The cross-banding capability also enabled direct communications between units within the training area regardless of terrain.

Additionally, reliable communication with aircraft was achieved at over three times the previous range. Aircraft could now be accessed from a portable radio allowing air controllers to be mobile rather than tied to a fixed location.

As for the other components involved, installation of the wind generator and solar panels was simple, and both resources were extremely effective at supplying sufficient power to the remote radio site. Moreover, the Ubiquiti wireless IP connection was very forgiving of poor directional alignment and continually provided reliable high data rates.

C4i’s integrated system proved to be far more cost-efficient than other proposed solutions, such as microwave equipment. Plus, the system offered many other new capabilities including video camera monitoring at remote locations; remote channel change of radios with serial or tone control; complete telephony integration; advanced radio control features and the ability to monitor the health status of all equipment remotely.

Above all, the most valuable benefit was the ability to maintain clear, steadfast communications in beyond-line-of-sight areas.  Once considered impossible, contact with ground personnel and low-flying planes across a mountain ridge was a now a reality.  This demonstration paves the way for other scenarios where it becomes necessary to conduct remote dispatch in another location without cabled connections to the main console. For example, fire stations and Police Departments based in rugged areas can now communicate with each other while sharing the same infrastructure.  Line of sight is no longer required.

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