Going digital is not the only upgrade path for mission-critical LMR systems, as officials in Thurston County, Wash., have discovered by enhancing the county’s conventional analog VHF system to improve coverage and meet the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate—at a 90% savings when compared to a proposed digital system.

In 2012, Thurston County migrated from a five-site legacy conventional analog simulcast system from Tait Communications to a newer conventional analog simulcast system from Motorola Solutions that included new equipment and four additional sites to provide 93% portable coverage throughout the county, according to David Taylor, technical services manager for Thurston County 911 Communications (TCOMM911).

A consulting firm hired by the county had recommended a 700/800 MHz digital LMR system, but the county did not have the necessary funding, he said.

By continuing to use conventional analog simulcast technology, most of the 22 public-safety agencies using the Thurston County LMR network did not have to buy new subscriber equipment, and existing infrastructure was able to be leveraged, Taylor said.

“I see the up-and-coming technology of digital and things like that, but there’s still a lot of analog out there,” Taylor said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “I think our system shows that there are still vendors out there that support analog and coverage is able to be gained or maintained, if you don’t have the particular funds to upgrade [to digital].

“We spent a little over $3 million on our current system that has the four new sites and provides countywide simulcast, as well as replacing all of our existing infrastructure with narrowband-capable equipment. The consultant’s estimate for a countywide [digital] system was $60 million, and we thought it might be higher than that. So, I guess we saved at least a cool $57 million.”

More than a year since beginning operations on the new system, Taylor said he is happy with its performance.

“We had very few equipment failures, and the coverage has maintained its integrity,” he said. “It started out good, and it has continued to be good, even as we’re fast approaching well over a year into it.”