Fulton County—the largest county in Georgia, which includes the city of Atlanta—recently began operations with its first significant public-safety-communications upgrade in 20 years with the implementation of a new P25 system and dispatch consoles from Motorola Solutions, according to county officials.

On the radio side, the 800 MHz P25 network replaces an analog LMR system that was installed prior to Atlanta hosting the 1996 Olympics and will enable greater interoperability with other public-safety agencies in the area, according to Joe Barasoain, Fulton County’s director of emergency services 911.

“All of our partners around us in the metro area have migrated toward a newer P25 system,” Barasoian said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We were about the only ones that weren’t P25 in the metro area. About three years ago, it became a reality, when it was funded and approved, and we’ve been working on implementation since then.”

Jonathan Reich, division chief of technical services in Fulton County’s emergency services department, said Fulton County transitioned from a nine-site Motorola SmartNet 4.0 system to a simulcast P25 network with 15 sites that provides greater coverage and audio quality.

“Obviously, the site increase was critical to our density and penetration of the network through the county, as well as our goal to increase coverage to the other new users or expanded user base that we now have within the county,” Reich said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “The digital P25, clean, crisp audio is the biggest and most noticeable feature that stands out to everyone. There’s no more ‘snap-crackle-pop’ distortion that happens with a typical analog signal.”

Although the new P25 system is capable of Phase 2 operation, Fulton County cannot realized the doubling of voice capacity from 12 channels to 24 channels until its subscriber equipment is replaced, Reich said.

“A lot of our fleet is still FDMA, so we haven’t been able to maximize the capacity increase that the system will provide us,” he said. “We’re looking at doing a change with subscribers at some point to maximize the TDMA channel availability on the network.”

Barasoain echoed this sentiment, noting that county officials’ goal is to be operating a Phase 2 P25 system within two years, which also will allow the rollout of AES encryption. But getting the funding to pay for the subscriber upgrades will not be a simple task, he said.

“The cost for county to move to TDMA is somewhere around $9 million, which is not something that they’re going to just whip out any time soon. We’re hoping that they start looking at how to fund it,” Barasoain said. “If we had to do it all over again, we probably would have just said, ‘It’s not a $20 million project; it’s actually a $30 million project’ as other jurisdictions usually do. Then, they can replace everything at once, so you’re not trying to piecemeal it after a year. Now it’s very difficult to go back to that same government body [for additional funding].

“They’re not really versed [in LMR]. They’re looking at it from the standpoint that, ‘A radio is a radio. How come this [existing] radio doesn’t work on the new system?’ Well, it does work, but the comparison I gave somebody today was, ‘Does a Windows 98 computer work today?’ It does, but it’s not what you want to be using.”