Get a clue about your inventory
Industry publications are awash with griping about 800 MHz rebanding — actually, the lack of progress thus far — and what to do about 700 MHz spectrum that will be available in a couple of years. I, too, have a gripe about rebanding, but my focus is different than most other people’s.
Since the late ’80s, I’ve been on a soapbox about how trunk system operators manage their systems. I took an informal survey at last year’s IWCE and APCO shows and asked system operators, “How many radios do you have on your trunk system?” About 98% of the answers included the words, “about,” “I think” or “…ummmm.” Two percent gave me a really accurate number.
The radios are not cheap by any means. If you’re not familiar with the topic, you might be surprised to learn that the radios in the hands of first responders cost anywhere from $2000 to $5000 each. Why? Because they must work in the harshest of conditions — first time, every time. Not knowing where some are located or how many are really in the inventory means hundreds of thousands of tax dollars could be missing.
Some of the reasons for radios going missing are innocent. In the heat of an incident, equipment does fall off a hip or a truck, gets crushed and otherwise seems to vaporize. We all can understand and accept these losses that skew total inventory numbers. But not having a clue about how many radios are on the street is appalling. The excuse from system operators used to be that they didn’t have enough time, with all of their other duties, to manage their radios and networks. This brings us back to 800 MHz rebanding.
An action item that comes quickly to the front burner concerns knowing the work that needs to be performed and how much it will cost. The critical path that leads to cost determination goes right through knowing your radio inventory and how it is being used. If nothing else, the rebanding process has forced many organizations to figure out exactly how many radios they own.
There certainly are great tools to make inventory management as painless as possible. There are ways to take those five separate Excel spreadsheets that were created by three people who are no longer in your department and merge them into a single commercial software program that will not only track your radios, but also help you find the ones that occasionally get lost.
A side benefit of all this work is that the system operator now has the tools to better predict future needs. The operator can even play “what if,” by reviewing how the system would have performed during the last major incident if it had one, two or more channels.
Once operators figure out exactly how many radios they have, and they get all of that great information about models and serial numbers into one place, they shouldn’t let all that work go to waste. Keep up with it. Keep it current. Keep tabs on radio usage. Look for radios that are not being used to their potential and repurpose them. Invest in some software to help keep those tax dollars working on the street, where they ought to be. In short, manage your systems.
Phil Burks is president of The Genesis Group, a provider of trunked radio software solutions. He has been involved in the mobile voice and data communications industry for more than three decades and holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.