Harris Stratex Networks this week announced a deal with the city of Anchorage and Municipal Light and Power (ML&P) to upgrade microwave links in the Anchorage Wide Area Radio Network (AWARN) used by local fire, police and emergency services personnel.

Upgraded microwave backhaul are needed as Anchorage transitions its two legacy first-responder LMR communications networks to a new $7.5 million, 700 MHz Project 25 system being built by Motorola, said Trygve Erickson, the city’s manager of telecommunications.

The backhaul load for the new system is expected to more than double—with anticipated traffic equal to the capacity of about 19 T1 lines—so Anchorage’s Harris Stratex Constellation gear will be upgraded to create capacity equal to 28 T1s, Erickson said.

“We’re really having to scrap nothing. … For the most part, we’re able to upgrade equipment rather than having to do a forklift upgrade, so that’s a real attractive feature,” he said. “To have spent many millions in the late ‘90s [on the microwave links] and to be able to spend a relatively modest amount of money to change the capacity of it in a big way is good news.”

Laurent Brigdan, territory manager for Harris Stratex, said the upgrade required replacement of multiplexers and modems, all of which should be completed by the end of this month. Erickson said Anchorage plans to move the first public-safety users to the new 700 MHz system in the summer.

The AWARN serves as the Anchorage node in the statewide Alaska Land Mobile Radio (ALMR) network, a shared-spectrum VHF system that enables interoperable communications between local, state and federal agencies.

“When [ALMR subscribers] are in the Anchorage area, my zone controller talks to the ALMR zone controller, and a VHF user can talk with one of the Anchorage 700 MHz users, and the users wouldn’t even realize that they were on different frequency bands,” Erickson said.

In addition to the microwave backhaul upgrade, Anchorage also is negotiating with Harris Stratex to provide some new links for the system, Erickson said. Other Anchorage departments, including the city’s information-technology unit, will utilize some of the excess capacity provided by the microwave backhaul, he added.