Five years ago, the city of Houston’s radio communications existed as a few disparate systems with little interoperability among departments or with other entities in the county.

The city has since moved its communications under the information technology department, where staffers set out to accomplish these goals: provide reliability and system capacity, increase interoperability, become a self-maintained system and improve coverage—especially inside buildings, Todd Johnson, assistant director of Houston Information Technology Services (HITS), said during an IWCE’s Urgent Communications webinar this week.

Sponsored by Anritsu, the webinar titled “Test and Measurement for P25 and LTE: Should you learn either or both?” featured Johnson and Patrick Weisgarber, business development manager with Anritsu. (Click here for a replay of the webinar, which lasts about an hour.)

Houston has operated a 700/800 MHz P25 Phase II radio system since last year, but it is also preparing for the possibility of participating in the county and state’s LTE system. FirstNet recently approved a spectrum-management-lease agreement (SMLA) with the state of Texas for the public-safety LTE network in Harris County, of which Houston is the county seat.

“We’re trying to figure out right now how that all fits in,” Johnson said.

A transition to LTE can be a bit intimidating for a technician who is accustomed to testing an analog or P25 system, but there are many similarities between testing LTE and LMR. Weisgarber said. The testing equipment is intended to “hide some of that complexity from the user,” he said.

“It’s not technically all that difficult,” Weisgarber said. “There’s different terminology involved between the two standards and there’s certainly a lot of new things to learn there, but the idea of the test equipment is to simplify that.”

In the meantime, Houston is working to improve its LMR system and provide the most reliable coverage possible for its users, including first responders.

Houston officials understand the stakes associated with first-responder communications. Four Houston firefighters perished last summer when the roof of a restaurant collapsed, making it the highest one-day loss of firefighters in the department’s history. Twelve firefighters were also injured that day.

The fire department had switched to the new system about a month before the fire. A report on the fire concluded that “it cannot be determined if there were any coverage issues on the date of the Southwest Inn fire,” but it noted that firefighters had experienced coverage issues in buildings like hospitals, high-rise buildings and underground structures.

Improving and protecting coverage, particularly in-building coverage for firefighters, has been one of the greatest challenges for HITS, Johnson said.

“Coverage has been very critical and crucial to us, so we wanted to figure out how do we make sure that we get into those crevices in buildings and know where we have coverage and where we don’t have coverage,” Johnson said.