Case Studies:

Multi-County Public Safety Agency Upgrades Microwave Radio Network While Preserving Original System

Iowa Public Safety Agency Upgrades with JumboSwitch®

Siouxland Tri-State Area Radio Communications (STARCOMM) replaced its aging multi-service concentrators and some T1 multiplexers with a modern JumboSwitch® Multi-Service Ethernet Platform. Using JumboSwitch® they created one interoperable network platform that uses Radio-over-IP (RoIP), Modem-over-IP (MoIP), T1, Ethernet and VoIP interfaces over OC-3, DS-3, fiber, and microwave radio transport mediums. This enabled all voice communications for law enforcement and emergency services to be shared in real-time between all parties.

Overview

Created at a cost of $14 million in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, STARCOMM was first deployed in 2006 to allow police, fire, and emergency first-responders to immediately share information between all entities in real time.

The 2006 STARCOMM network consisted of a multi-site, 6-channel digital 800 MHz Motorola P-25 Trunked radio system. The Motorola system operated on a five 5-site Alcatel microwave system with four 4 OC3 sites, 8 radio rings, 1 DS3 sites, and 4 radio hot standby spurs.

The original Alcatel system used multi-service concentrators and intelligent T1 multiplexers along with 2 servers to operate a primary and backup system manager software system for management and alarm monitoring. This system linked all of the STARCOMM and 911 sites back to the Woodbury County 911 and Dakota County 911 PSAP’s by single mode fiber optics.

The 911 system consisted of a 7-site Woodbury County Fire paging and Talk-Back radio system that used the STARCOMM microwave system along with three 4.9 microwave system links to the Alcatel microwave system. Towers are located at Western Iowa Tech Community College and West High School in Sioux City and near Ponca, Neb., Moville, Iowa, and Anthon, Iowa. A mobile communications bus also can be deployed (See Fig. 1).

Situation

Much of the STARCOMM upgrade focused on modernizing equipment and software that operated its microwave radio and fiber optic system. Some of the more pressing performance and reliability issues were equipment obsolescence and failures, network management, and network expansion. Specific examples include:

  • The old ATM multi-service platform was difficult to manage and didn’t provide remote management capability. As a result, when the system had an outage it sometimes took several hours to troubleshoot the issue to the root cause.
  • System expansion was difficult and involved many changes and additional equipment for even a simple point-to-point link.
  • Reliability had degraded in recent years. During its last year of operation, the system suffered more than ten hours of outage time due to equipment failures.
  • Vendor support for some of the older network equipment, such as multi-service concentrators, ended in 2012-2013. Future availability of replacement parts was uncertain and could result in major outages.

Project Requirements

“One of the biggest concerns with STARCOMM management was cost of ownership,” said Tony, “but the main technical challenge was keeping downtime to a minimum while maintaining a functioning system throughout the entire project.

“Two other big challenges were interfacing all of the different types of legacy circuits into a platform that would ride across the microwave and the need to preserve microwave backhauls.” Additional requirements included:

  • Providing standard 2/4 wire telephone and radio circuits
  • Providing T1 circuit connectivity
  • Providing its own PBX telephone dial tone and ring down circuits
  • Providing Windows-based Network Management software
  • Operating with redundant hot-standby -48VDC & 120AC power supplies

Solution

To design and implement the STARCOMM upgrade, the consortium of public safety agencies from three Siouxland counties, Union, Dakota and Woodbury, selected a local systems integrator that currently provided maintenance for STARCOMM’s current system and also specialized in Public Safety communications networks, Calhoun Communications. Calhoun’s Vice President, Tony Carpenter, said the upgrade project’s requirements were challenging.

Calhoun Communications reached out to a number of vendors to find the best replacement solution to the existing STARCOMM network. It ultimately recommended the JumboSwitch® Multi-Service Ethernet Platform from communications equipment manufacturer, TC Communications. (See Fig. 2 below)

STARCOMM Upgraded Network Diagram
Fig. 2 "Upgraded" STARCOMM System

The 2015 STARCOMM ring topology network uses the JumboSwitch to provide advanced multi-service Ethernet connectivity for T1, 2/4wire analog, telephone and modems between all sites over OC-3 microwave and fiber; DS3 microwave; and, Ethernet radio and fiber. Interfaces between the network nodes including FXS/FXO, T1, MoIP, 10/100/100 Ethernet and 600 ohm analog.

STARCOMM’s Director of the Woodbury County Communications Center, Glenn Sedivy, agreed with Calhoun’s upgrade recommendations and found the cost of ownership estimates to be very attractive.

“The JumboSwitch® fit our needs because it not only covered what our existing network was designed to do, but it also was designed to change the existing microwave radio network to a modern IP Radio system,” said Glenn. “And because of costs and future maintenance and warranties, we just felt that TC Communications was the direction to go.”

Results

  • Existing DS-3 and OC-3 microwave preserved
  • Audio quality significantly improved
  • Three times redundancy using JumboSwitch system
  • JumboSwitch seamlessly working with different radios
  • VoIP, MoIP, T1, DS-3, OC-3, 2/4-Wire Analog, Ethernet, and fiber supported
  • Nine old NewBridge ATMs with minimal down time replaced

Legacy to IP Migration

Using an advanced multi-service Ethernet platform (MSEP) gave STARCOMM the flexibility to replace existing legacy equipment and cutover to the new system with minimal downtime. In fact, Glenn noted that “police officers, firefighters and other end users had no clue that we were even doing anything to the system” during the cutover.

One reason that the JumboSwitch® prevented major downtime during the installation was its ability to run over the existing SONET network, according to Tony. “It also allowed for smoother cut-over of T1, 2/4 wire circuits, phone service and added MoIP capability for alarm monitoring communications.”

Because the microwave system is set up in a ring topology, the JumboSwitch®es can be integrated one at a time into the network. Linking up to 60 microwave circuits directly to the JumboSwitch with a single connection was an important improvement over the previous MSEP which required cutting over one circuit at a time.

Improved Audio Quality

The JumboSwitch® also improved audio quality, performance and reliability and met all of STARCOMM’s interoperability requirements including providing interfaces such as VoIP, Modem-over-IP(MoIP), T1 circuits, 2- and 4-wire (analog) circuits, Ethernet, fiber, OC3 and DS3.

STARCOMM was pleasantly surprised by how much the new JumboSwitch network improved voice audio quality.

“We didn't realize we had some problems with the audio quality until we switched over to the JumboSwitch® network,” said Glenn. “The radio technicians said that they couldn't believe the difference in audio quality between the old system and the new JumboSwitch® system. Until you actually know what it should sound like, it’s hard to believe it could make that much difference...but it did.”

Simplifying Network Management

Implementing the JumboSwitch® Windows-based TCView® Network Management System (NMS) provided STARCOMM with several benefits.

TCView® was much easier to operate, less costly to maintain and more user friendly than the previous NMS,” said Tony. “Now, one can better anticipate possible system issues before they become a major problem.”

For example, after the system was installed it showed a problem with one of the fiber optic links that was unknown before the install. The return path had a 3db lower signal, which caused some packet loss. The problem was found in a bad cross connect.”

Conclusion

The JumboSwitch® network has worked flawlessly since the installation, according to Tony.

“We were prepared to deal with some problems during the installation…and we did have a few...but the issues were with the existing equipment and weren't related to the JumboSwitch®. It is very adaptable to other equipment in the network and all counties are pleased with the system’s service and reliability.”

Back to top