Frequent battery replacements, missed calls, and garbled messages meant just one thing to Albert Brunson, head of public building equipment maintenance for Cumberland County, N.C.: time to update his mobile communications system.
“We were using ‘brick radios',” he says. “The units were heavy, analog hand-helds, some dating to the 1970s and '80s. We were swapping out batteries at least twice a year, and at $50 to $60 per battery that added up.”
Like all public sector managers, Brunson's choice of new equipment would be driven by cost. But deciding whether to depend on radio- or cellular-based communications technology also depends on geography and need.
“Our main concern was coverage, because our signal was so limited,” says Brunson. “In many cases, technicians had to step outside buildings to communicate. If two electricians were working in the same building in different locations, they couldn't supply updates or inform one another of potential emergencies.”
Brunson's team services the air conditioning, heating, plumbing, electricity, and refrigeration systems of more than 80 buildings scattered throughout the 661-square-mile county. When his colleagues within the county's Maintenance Department expressed interest in joining his quest for a more effective system, they quickly realized that cell phones would be cost-prohibitive.
“With 18 people in my department alone, and a unit cost of $45 per phone, we had to stay with two-way radios,” he says.
MIGRATING FROM ANALOG TO DIGITAL
In addition to lower upfront costs, Brunson calculated that radios offer lower total cost of ownership because they don't require a monthly fee like cell phones do. According to Motorola, a two-way radio system typically pays for itself in less than 18 months.
In addition, digital two-way radio systems operating on licensed spectrums offer capabilities that other mobile technologies cannot. The maintenance department was able to tailor a solution to meet specific coverage and functional requirements without investing in supporting infrastructure for employees working in the field, or using an often unreliable and more costly public network.
So last July, the department bought 50 Motorola MOTOTRBO handheld units and carrying cases for its public works, landscaping, buildings and grounds, carpentry, and animal control divisions, along with a base station, repeaters, antennas, and associated support items. The assistant county manager's office, administrative coordinator, and security desk at the county courthouse received another nine units.
In addition to combining voice communication and wireless data applications into one device, the system offers a flexible privacy option between individual users and groups without degrading voice quality or requiring additional hardware.
“With integrated voice and data capability, public works departments don't have to invest in two separate technologies,” says Paul Cizek, director of professional communication radios for North America, Motorola. At the same time, technicians can take advantage of the talk-around feature without tying up a single channel network.
“A group of plumbers can talk plumbing issues all day without the rest of the department getting the call,” says Brunson.