Washington Gas has upgraded its communications to a hybrid OpenSky2/P25 system from Harris to serve utility personnel in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia areas, according to a recent announcement.

Harris deployed the system more than year ago to replace the "aging" infrastructure that Washington Gas had been using — a simulcast system in the Washington, D.C., area and conventional infrastructure in West Virginia, according to Chris Sarantos, area sales manager for Harris. Washington Gas upgraded to a 22-site OpenSky2 network in the Washington, D.C., area and a 4-site VHF trunked P25 network in its Virginia and West Virginia territory, he said.

"The reason we went with OpenSky was simply because of the capacity that is allowed by the protocol," Sarantos said during an interview with Urgent Communications. "They went from a wideband, 25 kHz system to a narrowband, 12.5 kHz system without the need for a control channel. So, we more than doubled their capacity."

Michael Marsters, the director of gas supply operations for Washington Gas, echoed this sentiment.

"The added capacity allowed us to move data applications onto OpenSky2, saving money and increasing reliability," Marsters said in a statement. "It was clear that we needed to upgrade to a radio technology that would provide robust voice and data capabilities, as well as interoperable communications for our staff who serve our multi-state customer base. The Harris solution more than doubled our capacity while providing a robust data platform."

Because of propagation characteristics, Washington Gas opted for a VHF P25 Phase 1 system to cover its Virginia and West Virginia territory, Sarantos said. With the Harris VIDA solution serving as a common IP backbone linking the systems together, users from both systems can talk with each other.

"The requirement was that they needed to be able to communicate together," Sarantos said. "The nice thing about our VIDA platform is that it allows us to integrate different technologies onto one infrastructure. So, we're able to integrate the OpenSky network and the P25 infrastructure onto one network and allow everybody to seamlessly communicate through a transcoder."

Although announced only recently, Washington Gas has been using the hybrid system for several months, said Tom Hoyne, the director of utilities markets for Harris.

"It's actually been in use by the crews for several months now," Hoyne said. "It's been online for a year."