For most 800 MHz licensees, the massive rebanding project effectively involves packing their existing systems and moving them to a new frequency. As with any move, some items cannot practically be part of the transition.

Such is the case with Motorola's SmartNet Information Management System (SIMSII) and SmartNet Information Processor (SIP), which are network-management software systems akin to electrical stoves for those moving to an area with only gas connections — they simply will not work in the new home and must be replaced.

Motorola will not upgrade the software to work for rebanding but has contracted with The Genesis Group to sell the Texas-based firm's GenWatch3 software as the sole replacement for SIMSII and SIP, which have been used by Motorola trunking customers since the mid-1990s to monitor and digitally control their radio systems. Although the deal had not been announced as of press time, officials for both companies spoke openly that an agreement exists.

“There's no issues; they're working away and coming into our lab,” said Chuck Jackson, Motorola's vice president and director of systems operations.

As with all components of rebanding, the GenWatch3 Commander software replacing SIMSII and SIP is designed to be only a “comparable facility” to an operator's existing system, so the fundamental functionality will be similar. However, the GenWatch3 package offers 800 MHz operators a friendlier user interface and significantly more flexibility, Phil Burks, Genesis Group president and CEO said (see table).

“What we will provide will be very much an equivalent facility to meet their needs,” Burks said. “The only major difference is that we're going to be Windows; [SIMSII] was an old, UNIX-type character interface.”

For 800 MHz operators, the difference means that access to network-management information will not be limited to text-based printouts. GenWatch3 information is stored in Microsoft Excel, letting customers manipulate data as they wish in a familiar program, Burks said. In addition, GenWatch3 includes 13 “canned” reports that depict network activity via bar charts and other graphical interfaces (see graphic on page 26).

“It's certainly more user-friendly to look at what's happening on your system,” said Gerard Eads, communications administrator for the city of Arlington, Texas, which operates a SmartNet II system. “It has a ton of reporting features that the others don't have. It gives us bar charts about radios, which departments are using them and what their peak times are.

“Motorola builds a Cadillac of a radio system. As far as reporting, they don't do as good a job writing software to support it.”

While the graphical interface may be more intuitive for most users, the benefits of a Windows-based system are not limited to this aspect, Burks said. Thanks to massive economies of scale and technological advances, the GenWatch3 rebanding replacement package will be less expensive than installation of SIMSII or SIP were originally.

In addition, maintenance costs should decrease, and training should be much simpler, Burks said.

“They won't have to have a UNIX expert on staff,” Burks said. “Their existing IT staff can maintain this stuff. And, they get a lot of extra benefits and features simply because it's in Windows.”

Of course, that means changing hardware from UNIX-based machines to PC stations, a change that is necessary, Burks said.

“With modern technology, there's not a way to give a totally equivalent hardware facility on a swapout,” Burks said.

Although the basic GenWatch3 Commander package is designed to mirror the functionality of the existing SIMSII and SIP platforms, it's not limited to those items. It also includes a number of other optional software features that are deactivated to meet the limited “comparable facilities” criteria for rebanding, Burks said.

One such optional feature is CloneWatch, which lets network administrators monitor whether a radio ID — which is supposed to be unique — is being used more than once at the same time, meaning a clone is present on the system. Whether the clone is a radio operated by a criminal trying to steal air time on the network for profit or an honest typing mistake made by the technician programming the radio, identifying and correcting clone problems is a valuable tool for administrators.

Rebanding customers moving to the GenWatch3 platform can activate such optional features relatively easily, Burks said.

“We do have a bunch of additional things that I can pretty much guarantee Nextel won't pay for … because that wasn't part of the original deal” Burks said. “But it's a simple thing if a customer wants to place an order for CloneWatch, at the same time [as rebanding] or after the fact. They send us a purchase order, we send them a license file and — boom — it's there.”

One optional item that is relevant to rebanding is an inventory module. As a network-management tool, GenWatch3 monitors the activity for all radios in a given system, so the package can include a module that will inventory all radios using the system. Burks acknowledged that the module will not help administrators find radios that are not turned on — for example, a handset an elected official keeps turned off in his drawer except in cases of emergency — but Eads, the communications administrator from Texas, said it has helped his rebanding inventory effort.

“We did a manual inventory, but we found quite a few more by sending out an e-mail asking people to turn on their radios at a certain time,” Eads said.

About 200 operators in the 800 MHz band will need to install GenWatch3 Commander as part of rebanding, and almost as many other licensees in the band may opt for the software package on their own, Burks said. As a result, the rigorous testing that Genesis endured to get Motorola's blessing appears to a worthwhile endeavor.

“It's not an easy thing to do,” Burks said. “I certainly wouldn't want to do it for every product.”

A former Motorola employee, Burks said he is “humbled” by the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with helping radio operators — particularly public-safety customers — monitor their valuable systems and strives to fulfill a credo passed to him by a mentor that he met while working for the vendor giant.

“We will under promise and over perform,” Burks said.

SIMSII/GenWatch 3 management software comparison

Feature SIMSII GenWatch 3 Commander
Operating system UNIX Microsoft Windows XP
Maximum users 1 client free; 23 paid 24 clients at no add cost
Radio aliases 10,000 max 40,000 or more
P2T display Text-based Windows graphical interface
Channel grid display Text-based Windows graphical interface
Disk logging Limited interval 1 to 3 years, searchable
Statistical reports Text-based 13 graphical, Excel reports
Radio command manager Text-based Same feature, modern GUI
Source: The Genesis Group